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How to keep close ties with teens and tweens

Categories: Balancing Act, Kid Matters

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By Leah Peterson of LeahPeah

At the age of 38, I don’t really feel old enough to have a 20-year-old son or an 18-year-old daughter or a total of four kids, for that matter. But, I suppose when you get pregnant at 17 and belong to a church that discourages birth control, that’s how it works out. On the plus side, I had a lot of energy for chasing around small feet and I was still a teenager and thought I knew everything when the kids started popping out.

So, there’s that. And also? I’ve always really liked my kids as people, so even when things were hard, they weren’t suffocating.

There is something about having kids that levels the playing field, no matter how old of a parent you are. We all have to go through the same basic things. Your child will coo and burp, throw tantrums and lie about eating the ice cream while having chocolate dripping off their chin. They will master potty training, have inside jokes with friends that you aren’t a part of, think farts are the funniest things in the entire universe and learn how to hide parts of their lives from you. And then you’ll no longer be able to yell I Love You! out the car window when you drop them off and you’ll have to get used to the one word answers when asking what they did that day or how school was. And you learn patience. Lots and lots of patience.

And it’s all normal and just fine. You’re glad your child is learning to separate themselves, take care of themselves, and it’s amazing to watch them grow into who they are going to be. But it’s all with small pangs of sadness tossed throughout. You miss the sticky hugs and kisses and the talking at tuck-in time that’s now been replaced with shrugs and iPods and clouds of Axe or pink lip gloss. You miss them actually asking you to spend time with them and feeling like one of the most important people in their world.

On the morning they come out of their room wearing too much makeup or have hair hanging over their entire face except the tiny slit directly over their left eye, and you think, Whoa. I wish I still knew that kid, here’s some things you might want to try.

Cellphones

I know, I know. Handing your kid a cellphone and hoping they want to talk with you might be a little far fetched. But I can’t tell you how much better I feel knowing I can literally talk to them at any moment.

Of course, you’ll have rules. Rules like don’t have it on at school and leave it in your pocket while driving. But, you can also make other rules like text me (you do have unlimited texting, right?) when you get to your friend’s house so I know you got there safe and no matter who you are talking to, when I call you, you always pick up. And answer all of my questions. Honestly. Seriously, honestly! And that means if that 30-yr-old uncle is in the living room having his 8th beer and 15th bong hit in the dark while watching Wheel of Fortune, you call me to come get you even if you were planning on taking all your comic books up in the tree fort and sleeping over at Mack’s house. It matters.

But it also means that because you’re #2 on speed dial (and in their MySpace Top 8, right?) and they are so used to dialing you, when Shelly’s older sister asks everyone if they want to go sneak into a rated R movie and share some Bud Lights, your kid might just think twice about it and give you a call and ask for A Quick Emergency, meaning, Mom! Please tell me I have to come home right now because you really need me - call me in, like, 2 minutes and I’ll let everyone hear the conversation so they won’t think I’m a dork! And you’ll do it, too, yelling ‘the litter box needs emergency cleaning!’ while pumping your fist and barking like a general and you’ll be so glad he has that phone and you won’t even really make him clean the litter box out when you get back home.

Taxi Service

You know what I’m talking about. Of the 10 hours during the day when your kids are active, 76.7% is spent in the car driving someone somewhere or picking someone up. It can get a bit tedious and headache inducing, especially when the first thing your kid does when they get in the car is turn up the radio as loud as it will go. Try turning the radio off and talking. The savvy teen won’t be tricked into sharing more than ‘whatever’ or ‘kinda’ during the first few days (After that response I sometimes say, ‘I’ll see your Whatever and raise you a Nothin’ much!’ just to crack the exterior wall a tiny bit.), but the more time you attempt talking with them and being genuinely interested in how a test went or what a teacher said, sometimes the conversation accidentally slips into something about a friend, which is where all the good stuff is. And once they start telling you stuff about their friends, you’re in there, baby.

Pure gold.

Sparse Advice Giving

This is probably the hardest thing to do and this tip directly follows the one previous, because there is no faster way to get your kid to shut up than to give them unsolicited advice. It’s kind of freaky how instantaneous it is. And you, being so parental, might feel really good about how the conversation went and happy you had a chance to share a little wisdom with your offspring and not even notice how their eyes rolled or their mouth clamped shut. And you might never find out the rest of the story about how Brenda totally DID decide to make out with Kyle behind the school and you’ll miss out on how your kid feels about it because now the conversation is over. I try to not give advice to my kids unless asked for or if it’s a matter of life and death, which includes anything that might take away from their quality of life, like drugs, sex etc. And I must admit that I’m surprised over and over again at how damn smart they are at figuring out what they need to do all on their own.
Sure, I’d like to somehow take some credit for that (and I’ll probably figure out how to, someday) but the more trust you’re able put in your kids, the better. Mostly, my kids just want me to listen. Listen and
really try and hear them.

Alternate Forms of Communication

Sometimes, your kids can’t talk about it. They might say it’s because they don’t want to, but it might really be because they don’t know how. What you need is an alternate way to talk.

We’ve tried emails, blogs and blank notebooks left in the living room or on the kitchen counter. Even alphabet letters on the fridge sometime work. My oldest son and I used to have blogs just for each other to read. We were living about 150 miles apart at that time, so I really cherished any peek I got in to his life. It was easier for him to write about things than to talk on the phone.

My youngest son is a doodler and artist. He’ll use an entire page in the blank notebook drawing an illustration around one word like PEACE or GRRRR. Most of the time I get a pretty good idea about how he’s feeling and if I’m lost, I ask him and we go from there.

So if what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe try some of these ideas. And if you’re already doing these ideas and it STILL isn’t working, then, Dude. Sorry. I guess you’re really screwed. (Just kidding! Don’t give up!)

Let me buy you a beer.

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