As an Independent Education Consultant, my demographic is teens. Fortunately, I love and appreciate this age and often, my faith in humanity is literally restored by a one-hour college planning session with a high school student. Occasionally, I joke that they have a heavy burden of correcting many mistakes that my generation has made. I reassure them that I’m joking, even though I’m not, really.
Teenagers are a fascinating lot and I know from my work, as well as my personal life (my children are 25, 21 and 18), communicating with them can be a little tricky, if not downright exasperating. If I had a nickel for every time I nagged at my children, I’d have a ton of nickels. My logic stems from this: if they would just do as I say the first time, there would be no need to ask (nag) again. This factoid will make zero sense to them until they become parents.
I’m also keenly aware of the plight and suffering that can befall college freshmen. It’s not enough to be intellectually college-ready, students must have the emotional skills and stamina to withstand intense negative experiences. The increase in demand for college campus support services confirms this. Many of our kids are simply not ready or able to deal with their newfound independence, coupled with immense unscheduled time. Colleges are scrambling to meet the demands of student support and not just for mental health issues (although this is on a sharp rise). Food and alcohol bingeing, lack of discipline with regard to study habits and class attendance, and an inability to cohabitate with a roommate are just a few of the challenges that can quickly send a college student down a destructive path.
Effective communication opens up the possibility for occasional ‘teaching moments’. Teenagers know everything (just like we did) yet, if we’re lucky, we can still impart a golden nugget or two of information before they launch from home.
So, after much trial and error, behold my top 5 tips for successful communication with your teen.
1. At some point, and in spite of your teen’s complete lack of sense, you’ve got to trust the little darlings. As adults, we must summons our rational mind, although I recognize that having a rational mind while living with teens is often a paradoxical concept. Barring life and death situations, we must let them trip and fall, crash and burn. To not do so is to cripple them for life.
2. Listen, listen and then listen some more. Agreed, parents have years of wisdom and life experiences but we must not let our desire to be right or be heard overtake our interactions with them. That’s what your best friend/therapist is for.
3. Be present. For God’s sake, in the blink of an eye, they will be gone, leaving you in a pile of your own snot and tears. This was a hard one for me because I tend to become consumed with my work. I’m not suggesting you constantly make every waking moment about them (please, please don’t), I’m suggesting when you have the opportunity to make and enjoy a meal together, for example, tune in.
4. The “do as I say and not as I do” philosophy is bunk. If you are alarmed and even offended at how much time your kid spends on their device, take a good hard look at your own habits. Do you bring your phone to the dinner table? Do you look at/use your phone while driving? Do you exercise appropriate impulse control around your device? If you can’t resist checking your phone while your teen is speaking to you, why would they? Children are sponges, and they don’t miss much. Even your teenager, who is dialed in to their device for what seems like 23.5 hours per day, is watching and listening and learning by your actions and behavior.
5. Learn and embrace Generation Z. This remarkable generation is a powerhouse both in size and stature. To say Gen Z is tech savvy is the understatement of the year. They are super dialed in to their community, seamlessly blending work with service work. How cool is that? Market researchers, cultural observers and trend forecasters note this generation’s multi-cultural and worldly perspective. And while one could argue that these findings are more art than science, they make for fascinating discussion. For a wonderful article about Gen Z, read on.1