Dads and Teenagers: Keep talking no matter what

by John Hoffman

Steve is used to the looks he gets from salespeople when he gives his teenaged daughters advice on what colour makeup to buy. He got similar looks when he took 16-year-old Anna to buy a prom dress. He really got looks when he took Anna and Siobhan to buy their first bras. It might be a bit unusual for a father to do all those things. But Steve’s wife happens to hate shopping. He likes it.

I don’t mean to suggest every dad ought do these sorts of things with his daughters. The point is that Steve and his girls are comfortable together and they can talk about girl things. That ties into the only two pieces of advice I’ll offer up for fathers of teenagers (regardless of gender): keep talking no matter what, and keep finding things you like to do together.

Being a father is all about the relationships. That’s true for all ages of children, of course. But maintaining a good relationship can be more difficult once kids hit the teen years. They spend a lot more time away from us. Their lives become more centred around their friends. They don’t need us as often or as much – except maybe to get a ride somewhere.

Some dads and teens have no trouble finding things to talk about. They might share interests like sports, politics, hiking or, you know, shopping. But sometimes, when the teen is not much of a talker, or there are shared interests, parents and teenagers can almost get out of the habit of pleasant conversation. It can get to the point where most conversations are about what we want our child to do (or not do). When are you going to do your homework? Clean up your room. How many times do I have to tell you to hang up your jacket? Don’t talk to your mother like that!

It’s important to have pleasant, or at least, untense, conversations too. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about raising teenagers came from my uncle. He said, “Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk.” Teenagers aren’t always in the mood for talking when we think it’s time to talk. So it’s important to take the opportunity to listen (and talk) when it comes up. I used to have some of my best conversations with my teenaged boys when I was driving them places.

For one thing, if you keep talking you’ve got a better chance of having your kid come to you about things that are really important. Steve’s daughter Anna has reached the age where a lot of kids start “partying.” Steve and Anna have talked about drinking. He knows she’s been to parties where she’s “had a drink or two.” They’ve talked about how to do it safely. He’s even driven her to parties and picked her up. Does that seem permissive? Here’s how Steve looks at it. “Once you start forbidding things, that’s when you run into problems,” he says. “Some of Anna’s friends go to the same parties, but they lie to their parents about it. At least I know where she is and what she’s doing and I can talk to her about how to stay safe.”

I’m not saying Steve’s approach to partying is the right way for every family. But I do think it’s good that Steve and Anna are talking and that they have the kind of relationship where Anna knows she can talk to her dad.

How things go with your teenager(s) will depend on a lot of factors – your personality, your child’s personality, who their friends are, whether they have problems in school, and lots of other things. So, no one can say, “just do x, y o z, and you’ll be fine.” But, apart from keeping the lines of communication open I have one other thought: Don’t forget to be nice.

That might sound foolishly simple. But I’ve met teenagers who were really hurting because their parents seem to have forgotten to be positive with them. It always ate at my heart the way these kids seemed to hunger for positive contact with a nice adult. Sure, they often had issues going on that probably made it hard for parents to be nice. Maybe they didn’t follow house rules. Maybe they got into trouble. Even so, they still need to feel that their parents like them and can see the good in them.

The way I see it is, we’re the adults. It’s our job to rise above the difficulties. So whatever is going on with your teenager, try to remember that they still need our love and support. And I don’t think we can assume that they just know we love them. They have to see it and feel it. Having good times together helps. Shared good times are sort of like bank account deposits. They build up our relationships. A good relationship puts you in a better position to keep having influence over your teen even though you have less control than you did in the past.

My kids’ teen years had their tough moments. But overall, I enjoyed them – a lot more than I expected. I know other people who would say the same thing. I hope you have a great time raising your teenagers. But if you’re having a hard time, keep talking and don’t forget to be nice.

Do you have any wisdom to share about what works and doesn’t work for raising teens?  Share them in the comments section.

 

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