I have a houseful of adolescents who have come to visit their grandmother at the beach. Sitting in a ring in the sand, I asked them what were the rules they felt parents should know about how to talk to their teenagers. Here are some of the things they said:
Firstly, don’t talk first but listen. Listen as carefully as you can and don’t jump to any conclusions immediately. Let your adolescent have his/her say.
Secondly, don’t preach. Don’t begin a sentence with “When I was your age” I had to walk all the way to school, or I had to do such and such chores. Don’t set yourself up as a paragon of virtue even if you were, which is unlikely.
Thirdly, rather lead by example. Practice what you would like to preach. Show the way by your own exemplary behavior and hope that you will eventually be emulated.
Fourthly, remember just how aggravating you found your own parents when you were that age and try not to be offended or hurt. Don’t take casual remarks too seriously.
Fifthly, show an interest in the interests of your teenager even if it is difficult. Listen to the music which may have no melody or words you can hardly understand. Go to the soccer games, or whatever sporting events your teenager enjoys. Remember that the world has changed, that our modern world is changing rapidly and that taste is the most variable of all.
Six, demand a modicum of respect. Make certain rules and regulations and make sure they are kept. Make clear and simple rules and expect that they should be carried out. No name calling for example.
Seven: Aim high for your teenager. Never condescend but talk to him/her as an adult and treat the teenager with the respect you expect from him.
Eight: Try to establish times to talk: around the table is, of course, excellent. Talk about what is happening in the world, what is going on around us today, and respect your teenager’s opinions which may be different from your own.
Nine: Remember that you will fail and fail again but if you have a clear idea of what to expect and what you are willing to give, at least the path forward will be clearer.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.