Q: We have a teen who seems to be a whole different person than that nice little girl I was raising in grade school. What I need is a list of tips on coping with teens that I can hang on my mirror each day to remind myself how to deal with her at this age. Can you help? — Megan P.
A: Maintaining a positive and open attitude is your most important asset as a parent of teens, but it's tough to do consistently, particularly during conflicts. However, if you maintain that open attitude most of the time and let your teen know you genuinely care about her ideas, interests and opinions (even if you disagree) you will be fine.
It's really hard to let go of the person we knew in the past and accept that our child is becoming a new individual. Although it's wonderful to enjoy the memories of what they were like when they were little, we cannot let nostalgia blur our vision of who they are now and what they need from us now. Remember that teens are growing into unique people who may have surprisingly different talents, ideas and opinions from what we always expected, but that's OK. We accept and respect differences among our fellow workers and friends; we can learn to accept and respect differences in our teens too. Here are more tips:
n Let your teens know they are important. We all need to feel valued for what and who we are inside, as well as for the things we can do.
n Remember that the most important part of good communication is careful listening to feelings as well as words. The time you spend listening (no matter what time or where) is the core of your relationship.
n Focus on your kids' strengths. Research suggests that parents make four negative comments for every positive comment to teens. Turn those statistics around!
n Help teens face problems, not avoid them or cop out. They need to learn to handle unpleasant situations honestly and in the best way they can; it's easier to learn it now than as adults.
n Teach them the value of serving others or contributing to something larger than themselves. Teens can be enthusiastic and energetic volunteers or advocates. Tap that energy and help them grow as people.
n Help them see their choices in terms of their own best long-term interest and life skills instead of what is easy, quick or "what everyone else does."
n When you are about to lose your temper and your open, positive approach, ask yourself if what you're fighting about will be important five or six years from now. It will help you regain perspective.
n What you are building is a lifelong friendship. Don't forget to have fun and laugh together.