As we drive down the Oregon coast on Highway 101 in the 34-foot RV that my family has come to call the “Pig on Skates”, I am reminded by how much we gain from spending time with our teens. In today’s busy world, it is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life. And, while summer brings warm weather, long days, and fantastic freedom, it also brings new ways for our teens to fill their days. Many replace school, activities, and time with friends with things like sleeping in, going to work or attending camps, and spending even more time with friends. As parents, we have to take advantage of the moments when we get the opportunity to grab their attention.
Recently, a parent shared the following concern with me. She said,
I love it when I get time with my teens. But, I find myself feeling like I have to take advantage of every opportunity I get to teach them something. Isn’t that my job as a parent? When my daughter talks about her boyfriend, I impart on her what I know about relationships. When my son talks about his dream of being an astronaut, I share with him the kind of schooling and experience he will need. I learned early on to take advantage of “teachable moments”, but I am starting to feel like they are getting in the way of my relationship with my teens.
Teachable moments are certainly an important part of parenting. If you think of their developing brains as gardens, each conversation is a seed that is planted in that garden. One difference between the seeds that become part of the soil and those that grow into healthy plants is how they are nourished. Sometimes teens resist information and other times they receive and nourish it. Research suggests that teen pay less attention when they feel as though their parent is lecturing them and more attention when they feel as though they are part of the conversation. Teens may verbally resist what you share with comments like, “You really just don’t understand” or “Things are different now than they were when you were a teen. Or, they may check out and let their mind drift to other thoughts. When this happens, it is time to check how you are talking and give them opportunities to contribute to the conversation.
This is not to say that we should stop talking to our teens about important issues. Even those seeds that lay dormant for a period of time can spring up when the teen is ready to receive the information. However, it is also important to remember that what we have to teach our teen is not always communicated through our words of wisdom and experience. You have probably heard things like, most of your communication is delivered through your body language and your actions speak louder than words. As your teen matures, he or she will pay more and more attention to the subtleties of who you are and how you respond to different situations.
Don’t forget that one of the other ways that you have influence as a parent is through listening, having fun, and sharing in day-to-day experiences with them. It is in these moments that you get to share a piece of who you are with your teen. As we get closer and closer to going home, I find am thankful for the time we spend singing to Aerosmith as we drove down the road in our “Pig on Skates” and swimming in rivers, lakes, and oceans along the way. I will remember building fires on the beach, dancing to all kinds of music, being silly and laughing at each others funny faces. Above all, I will cherish the little parts of themselves that they shared and the ways that they opened up to me by just “being together”.