May 29, 2019

The 3 Things Your Teenager Needs From You Today

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The high school years are full of nuance and complexity. You remember, don’t you?  (C’mon, it couldn’t have been that long ago.) Finding time to both socialize and study. Carefree some days but confused on others. A party to attend one night and a paper to write the next.

If it feels like your teenager lives on an emotional roller coaster, it’s probably because he or she does. The relational, physical, emotional, and academic pressures can cause even the most fun-loving, easy-going teen to break down and cry an occasional river.

The bottom line is this: Your kid still needs you.

He may not say it, but he sure feels it. She may chase you away, but she’s hoping you come right back. Whether they’re prepping for the SAT, going in for that first job interview, running for student council, or picking an outfit for prom — your children are counting on you to be their rock.

Let me give you three ways you can do that . . .

Inspire Them

You’re probably a perfect parent, but I’m not. I’m far from perfect. So the idea of inspiring my teenagers feels like climbing Everest or going vegan, not possible.

But I’ve come to understand that, for a parent, being an inspiration is not about extravagance or even excellence — it’s about example. The little things you do, the simple things you say, just the way you live your daily life inspires your high schooler in powerful ways.

Your kids are always watching. This is true whether they’re six or sixteen. You’re a model for living, a forerunner, showing them the way. They’re going to take their cues from you, although they may never admit it.

Inspiration is all about example.

I have no idea how much money (or how little) my dad made, but when I close my eyes, I can still see him gathering his briefcase and going to work every day without complaining. My mother was not an AP student in her youth, but I so vividly remember how she would sit with me every night at the kitchen table, “helping” me with my homework.

The way we live . . . that’s what our kids remember.

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and former director of Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, writes: “A better way to get children to clean their room or do their homework, for example, is to model the behavior yourself, encourage it and praise it when you see it.”

You’re the mother; you’re the father. That means you have a place in the life of your children no one else has. Your work ethic, your unconditional love, your daily example — that’s an inspiration.

Listen to Them

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Today’s Generation Z students would wholeheartedly agree. They feel unheard. And because they feel unheard, they feel unvalued. It’s the common refrain for an adolescent to shout, “You never listen to me!” -- in Psychology Today, Carl E Pickhardt, PhD, writes that the teenager is feeling, I’m not worth being listened to!

For your high schooler, real connection and genuine support happen when you simply listen. I know you’re busy, and I understand that most days have little space for deep heart-to-hearts (even if your child would open up in that way). But every day has gaps -- and these gaps are perfect listening opportunities.

On your drive to school; while you’re cooking dinner; when they show up, asking for money . . .

So tell me again about the big exam you’ve got coming up?

I forgot to ask before, how did you feel when [so-and-so] said [this-and-that]?

On a scale of 1–10, how was your day? What would have made it better?

Really? That’s so interesting. Tell me more about that.

Quality conversation only comes after a quantity of conversation. If you’ve invested time to listen to the little things — if you’ve maximized the gaps that each day gives you with your teenager — one day you’ll overhear them say . . .

“I can talk to my mom or dad about anything.”

Prepare Them

I’ve saved the best for last — life preparation. This is what parenting is all about. The bottom line, the real deal, the moment of truth.

We’re not here to be best friends with our kids, that’s not our job. And as much as we want to, we can’t protect them from every disappointment life hurls their way.

But we can do this: We can prepare them for what’s ahead.

Our #1 responsibility is to give our children opportunities that will prepare them for success.

 You’ve led by example (inspire), you’ve let them talk (listen), and now it’s time to look for the tools that can help them chisel out a path to adulthood.

  • Do they have a special skill or talent? Find classes or workshops to hone that gift.
  • Are they struggling in a class and you don’t know enough to help? Ask a smarter-than-you friend to help, or hire a tutor until the semester is over.
  • Is the SAT or ACT coming up and they’re feeling a little nervous? There is great online test prep material out there.

You don’t have to do it alone. There are a million tools available to you that will help you prepare your teenager for adulthood.

Here’s the thing: Preparing your child for a rewarding life is so much more than an obligation; it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to let your children stand on your shoulders and go higher and further in life than they ever thought possible. When you’ve done that, you’ve done everything.

If you’re looking for an ACT or SAT preparation resource, UWorld can help. Click here to see how their practice questions, detailed explanations, and performance tracking can help your test-taker hit their dream score.


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