Conversations with youngsters

Do you have a young person in your life with whom you would like to communicate more effectively? Are you struggling to get them to listen to you? Difficulties with communication is a fairly universal dilemma shared by parents all over the world as their child grows towards independence. You only need to remember your own struggles with your own parents/ authority figures to know this … and it’s not getting any easier.

Young people today have so much more going on that anyone not of Generation Z may not fully understand or appreciate. They have way more ‘stuff’ to deal with than their parents generation, no matter how young the parent!  School life, home life, that all-important social life, both on-line and off line, and how to fit in – combined with a constant diet of ‘news’ from around the world – it can seem overwhelming to the young mind. If all this is going on outside- we can hardly imagine what’s going on inside!! It is all the more vital they understand the role of parents as anchors and support structures who give unconditional love and guidance, even as they navigate their own uncertainties.  This support is invaluable in providing a sense of confidence that is critical for dealing with the roller coaster ride that is modern life.

We have designed the Get up and Go’s Young Person’s Diary to help young people see the bigger picture – it’s a big world and there is a place for everyone, no matter how small. It is full of encouraging messages,  short inspiring quotes, and space to write (in small writing) their own personal goals, dreams, and action plans. It functions as a wise guide for the young person with fun images and easy to understand  ideas that can inspire, motivate encourages and empower a young reader. One sentence may be all it takes to help them see a troubling situation from a different perspective. This helps to become aware of the realities of the world while also fostering resilience and providing a balanced, and lighter, view of the ups and downs of life.

The problem for parents starts when they notice their youngster seems to have developed an ‘entirely foreign’ communication system. It’s like they have a new language designed to separate them from ‘old people’ … and they are masters at it!!

  • You are now communicating with a closed door and being viewed as an embarrassment. Yes, this is the norm. Pals and peers are preferred to parents, and privacy is paramount. Best not to take this as a personal affront to your parenting skills but as a sign of a desire – and need – for their independence. Be clear on the boundaries to accommodate the new individuality and maintain your standards. They are testing your limits!
  • Consider you now have to change the way you communicate to move from ‘parent-child’ to ‘parent- young person’ and help them to sort out their own problems by listening carefully to their struggles. Be sure to let them know you are there if they need you but don’t get involved in their issues unnecessarily. Allow for venting and provide a safe space, and support, while they figure out their own solutions.
  • Papa (Mama), don’t preach. This is a time for listening. Listen to them. Hear what they say. Speak to their concerns. Answer their questions as honestly as you can. Youngsters will be more open to following your example than your instructions. This is the time to ‘practice what you preach’ rather than preach it. It’s easy to talk. “Do as I do, not as I say” is not as easy. Who ever said parenting was easy!!!
  • Be available and stay involved – now is not the time to be a helicopter parent. Determining just the right amount of accessibility is the tricky part and you’ll have to play this by ear. Getting involved means spending time together, sharing ideas and experiences, getting to know this young person who is probably changing before your eyes. Be there for what’s important, whenever possible. Ask about school, what did they learn? the game, how did they play? their day, how did it go? – whatever is relevant – and then listen with interest to the feedback. Be aware that your attitude to, and empathizing with, setbacks and disappointments, teaches acceptance, boosts self-esteem, and promotes the courage to try again.

Try these guidelines for size:

Just be together, whether it’s walking the dog, washing the car, or cleaning up around the house or garden. No pressure, no agenda; just a connection. Teens and kids will be more likely to mention what’s on their mind while busy with something else. Avoid the temptation to do all the talking!! Riding together in the car is perfect for this because the focus is on the road and there is little chance of any uncomfortable eye contact.

Shared family meals. Sitting down together over food provides an opportunity to be together without any pressure to interact. Preparation, dining, and clearing and washing dishes afterwards will build a connection as well as a sense of responsibility within a team and family environment. Schedule these daily or as often as is practical for you and yours. Agree to turn off the TV and disconnect phones.  

Saying goodnight at bedtime offers the perfect chance to connect since this has likely been a constant since birth.  Whatever happened in the day, it’s all sure to look better after a good night’s sleep. Restricted blue-light time beforehand – and some communal ‘chill time’ – assists in maintaining a sense of security and assuring a peaceful rest. In the event of resistance, just a goodnight, a smile or a gentle reassuring touch will go a long way.

Showing affection: This is a tricky one as children get older. Pick up the signals and definitely avoid PDAs (public displays of affection) which will not be tolerated – and punishment will be swift!!! As showing affection definitely goes a long way to your child feeling loved and secure, it’s a balancing act between private and public behaviour. Showing appreciation for their achievements falls in this category, too, and best to be delightedly understated in the public arena!!   

Be interested and curious about their ideas, feelings, and experiences, and listen to what is being said. Respond nonjudgmentally to encourage conversation and the sharing of those tough issues when they come along. These timely conversations are where the magic can happen.

Screen Time is going to increase with time. Giving your teen free rein with electronic devices will result in less, and lower, quality family time and more unwanted challenges such as maintaining safety on-line. Set limits, explain why, and be sure to lead by example on this one!

When you have something to discuss with the teen, try this:

  • Advance notice helps to give the teen a chance to prepare, knowing what you want to talk about.
    • Feed them first so they’re not hungry and distracted. You want their full attention.
    • Be in control of your own emotions. Decide what’s important here and stay calm. 
    • Walk and talk. Teens think better while active. Try going for a drive or shopping and lunch. This also normalizes the conversation and can alleviate any discomfort.
    • In many cases you are just opening a conversation – it could be a long on. We all need time to process stuff and then come back for a follow up discussion. There’s plenty of time as long as the door remains open.

Team up with Get up and Go and get those conversations ‘up and going’

Thanks to our Young Person’s Diary there’s plenty of inspiration in those 146 pages.

You’ve got this.

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