From November 30, 2009
Many parents ask me how they can best communicate with and relate to their teenage children. It is a hard age, and a difficult time for both you and them. For the teens, they are working on their identities, trying to maintain a good sense of self-esteem, and negotiating the pressures of peers, schoolwork, and activities. They are exploring their independence, and with the added connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, teens also feel they need to be accessible 24-7 to their peers. Parents want to have some idea of what their children are ‘in to’, who their kids are hanging out with, if they are working to their best abilities at school, while also wanting some sense of organization and cleanliness around the house. When you look at the two lists of what each is striving for, they don’t always line up or make life easy for parents!
So how can a parent maintain a solid relationship and good communication with his or her teen while the teen is working on pulling away? Today’s blog will focus on parental expectations for teens at home. As kids get older, engage them in conversation about your expectations and what the logical or natural consequences will be if they don’t follow the guidelines. Don’t take the cell phone away for a messy room or ground them from friends because they didn’t put dishes away. Let the consequences be related to the situation. And make sure to provide plenty of positive attention and feedback when your teen is caught making great choices. If they only hear from us when they make mistakes or challenge authority, they will learn to seek our attention through those negative channels.
The teen bedroom:
Let teens’ rooms be their safe haven. As long as things aren’t growing and it’s not smelling badly, leave it be. Ask that the door be closed if it seems like, as Dorothy said, “it’s a twister.” If you have a cleaning service, explain to your teen that his room will be entered and cleaned only if the floor is accessible and the bed is reachable. If your teen chooses not to have it cleaned, it is your child’s responsibility to change and wash the sheets. Don’t panic if the sheets don’t get changed for a few weeks. Don’t rush in to get dirty laundry either. If it’s not in the laundry basket, it’s not your job. This is a great time for your teen to learn the responsibility of doing laundry!
If you have a son, a major request is aim. Keep antibacterial wipes nearby, and if your son refuses to take aim, request that he wipe the seat or floor if he is wide of the target. Towels are another sore subject with teens and parents. The request is that the towels get hung back up to prevent mold and mildew. Explain that your child can choose to leave a towel on the floor, but you will not wash towels repeatedly if they aren’t hung up to dry. Your teen can easily do the towels if she chooses not to take proper care of them, and wants a clean smelling towel after a shower. As for counters and garbage, especially when teens share a bathroom with each other, common courtesy applies. Put things away after use, take the antibacterial wipe and clean off the counter when finished, especially if toothpaste is spit on the faucet! Keep kitchen garbage bags in the cabinet in the bathroom. When the garbage is overflowing, teens can grab a bag without leaving the room, fill it up, and bring it down to the garbage on the way out the door!
The living space:
This includes stairways, foyers, living rooms, family rooms, and kitchens. Most kids take off their shoes and pile them up near the front door. Make space nearby or in the hall closet to accommodate this. Coats seem to find their way onto railing posts. Make sure you have adequate hangers in your coat closet, and you can request that by the time kids make their way to their bedrooms for the night, coats are hung back into the closet. Backpacks can be kept either by the door or in a child’s room. If your house is like mine, there are always five pens laying around in the kitchen or family room. Find a drawer that is convenient in the kitchen area and designate it the ‘kids’ supply drawer.’ That’s where pens, pencils, paper clips, etc. go when finished.
You say, "You make it sound so easy...but it's NOT!"
If you noticed, many of my tips involve convenience for the teen. Having garbage bags, wipes, and other supplies where they’re needed will help to see the job gets done. It’s understandable with everything the teens are juggling, that they haven’t prioritized keeping your home organized and clean. Have a family meeting where you discuss your guidelines. Hear what the kids have to say about managing their living space. Most of the time, if you allow for their bedrooms to be teen-friendly, they will be more likely to respect the family living space in your house.
So then you ask, "But how can a parent follow through if THE KID doesn't follow through?"
If they choose to spread their supplies all over the house, the easiest remedy is the bag/box. Let the teens know that anything left laying around in the living space of the house will be bagged for five days. Explain the purpose of the rule (for example, “You haven’t been keeping your end of the bargain up by keeping the living space free from your clutter at the end of the day.”) Let them know that anything collected will be off limits for the five days – regardless of what the item is. The bag will be returned at the end of the five days, provided the teen puts the contents away. Don’t be afraid to put a cell phone, soccer equipment, coats and shoes, books or homework into the bag. Once you follow through, your teens will know you mean business and keep your living space uncluttered in the future. Emphasize that if your teen really values his property, he will put his things in their places. Just to let you know how this works, once I bagged items left lying around. My daughter decided she didn’t “need” any of the items, so I tucked it into the back of her closet for safekeeping. Years later, when she was cleaning out her closet to get ready to go to college (yes, YEARS LATER) she came across this bag. She found treasures that were “misplaced” long ago!
Remember to visit this blog as there’s lots more to be shared on the subject of teens and parents. This is a turbulent yet wonderful time in both of your lives. Please realize that some of these guidelines may not work for your teen, as all teens are not created equally, and all parent-child relationships are unique. Try to remember back when you were the teen when trying to negotiate this time in your life. All generations find their own ways to rebel and to create their own sense of independence. Let them make decisions, positive and negative, as they test out their roles. Be there to support them when a decision goes wrong, and I hope and pray that any misjudgment by your teen will be a safe learning experience on his or her road towards adulthood. Of course, if you know your child is making unhealthy choices, you need to step in and provide strong guidance and consequences. But keep in mind also that the best way to learn many of life’s lessons is to experience mistakes, manage them, and correct them for the future.