Yes, you read this right. This tip is about your teen, not a team. The good news is that your teen is coachable. Skeptical? Brain science has revealed that there are two critical periods in brain development – the first is from birth to about five years of age. The second critical period? You guessed it, the teenage years.
What do I mean about a critical period? It means your child’s brain is especially malleable. For most parents of a teen that is a disconcerting thought, since your teen may seem to have rejected all parental influence. I understand. I recall a Saturday evening years ago when my oldest child Heather pulled her sweatshirt hood down over her face for an entire night because she was embarrassed she might be seen at a bowling alley with her parents and siblings. What she apparently didn’t realize is that there was little chance her teenage friends would have been there, and if they were, they would have been equally mortified at the prospect of being seen bowling with their family on a weekend evening.
But here is the message: your parenting is very important to your teen- you just need to be a different parent than you were a few years ago. Below are some suggestions:
1. Diaries and journals build creative expression and enhance literacy – Encourage your teen to express himself in writing. Written language skills are essential to success in college and most careers. One way to provide opportunities for your teen to develop writing skills is to encourage journaling. A journal is a private log of thoughts, experiences, and concerns that promotes both writing and problem solving. Because no one is grading it, a teen will often write for hours – just the act of writing builds writing skills But a key component is “privacy’, since your teen is more likely to use the log often and write more if he feels his private thoughts are secure.
2. Create opportunities for dialogue – Her space, her topic. A teen’s world is busy so there won’t be many times to engage your teen in long conversation. But if you want to know what your teen is up to, you need to get a conversation going. When a time opens up, capitalize on it. You might be in the car on the way to a sports event or driving your teen to a party. Or, you might find your teen alone in his room on a weekday evening. When you catch a moment like this use it to talk – but let your teen choose or elaborate on the topic. Try open-ended questions and avoid any topic that might seem like you have an agenda. The idea is to get your teen talking freely. Conversation starters might be:
“I haven’t seen ________ for awhile. Are you guys still friends?”
“I was thinking about taking your brother (sister) to a movie. What have you seen that you liked? What’s it about?”
“What do you think I should get ______ for his birthday (the holidays)” Why would that be a cool gift?
“We’re thinking about a trip this summer, where would you like to go”?
3. Don’t be afraid to maintain control Teens reject control but at the same time crave it. Your teen is experiencing a natural pull against authority. Nature is pushing your teen to become an adult and to separate from you, the parent. However, the irony is that your teen is not really ready to be independent. Research suggests that the frontal lobe, (the part of the brain that prepares for the future and delays gratification) is not yet mature and is extraordinarily vulnerable to effects of addiction and peer influence. Until your teen is an adult, you need to be his frontal lobe, Provide your teen with goals:
a. rewards for good grades,
b. special events for good school attendance or sports achievements
c. maintain daily routines like homework schedules and limits on cell phone use
d. make a habit of assuring homework is finished before playing video games or watching T.V.
4. Watch for addictive behaviors – Research suggests that teen years are the most are vulnerable to addiction of all kinds – substances, risk-taking activities, even video games. The plasticity of the teen brain means that it is more vulnerable to addiction than other age groups. This can be a good thing if your teen is spending most of her time practicing sports or a musical instrument. But , if you see your teen’s grades dropping or participation in social activities decreasing, these might be warning signs. Speak with a counselor at school or a trusted teacher and seek professional guidance. Teen addiction can be stopped easily if caught right away.