Don't listen to your kids when they tell you to leave them alone.
A few weeks ago, my family and I spent a week at Mount Hermons Family Camp in northern California. On the one morning I didnt teach about Sticky Faith, I attended a youth panel featuring four high school students.
I raised my hand and asked the panel a question that I love asking young people: what do you wish your parents had done differently?
Ill never forget one 16 year-olds answer. She said that a year or so ago, she started spending more time in her room, distancing herself from her parents. In her words, And my parents stopped checking up on me.
She continued, While I was in my room, they spent more time with my younger sister. I started thinking they loved her more than me, so I started making bad choices at school. I dont think I would have made those choices if my parents had checked up on me.
I am sure those parents were well-intentioned, and Im guessing that this 16 year-old never acted like she wanted her parents around. But she did. Beneath a likely hostile-leave-me-alone exterior, she still wanted contact with her parents.
If you want to stay connected to the young people you know without being a helicopter parent, try some of what weve heard from amazing parents around the country:
- Take advantage of car rides. The car is often the best opportunity for conversation, especially if you ban cell phones (or severely limit their use).
- Share with your kids about what you are going through. Interestingly, the moderator of the panel (whos on the camps youth staff) shared that during high school, his dad took him out to breakfast once a month. This young man felt like he could share because his dad always started the conversation by sharing what he himself was going through, thereby opening the door for a reciprocal relationship.
- Be willing to stop what youre doing when the conversation door opens. This is the hardest one for me, but if your teenager doesnt open many doors for conversation with you, whenever they do, you need to drop what youre doing to connect with them. The e.mail, the house projects, and the baseball game can wait. Conversations with your kids cant.
When teenagers you know are communicating verbally or nonverbally that they arent all that interested in time with you, how do you nonetheless stay connected with them?
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