New On-Line Program for Fathers Experiencing Divorce or Separation

Just as divorce or separation is the furthest thing from a man’s mind on the day he says, “I do.”, being separated from his child is the farthest thing from his mind when he hears, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” Yet, close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, and roughly 80% of mothers receive primary custody. This can leave fathers feeling disconnected from their children.

Children need their father in their life.  In fact, decades of research tells us that no single factor contributes more to the well-being of adult children of divorce than having a relationship with both parents while growing up.  Fathers and children share a special bond with one another, one that is unique from that of mothers.  Regardless of divorce, fathers want to protect, guide, and provide for their children. They have an endless amount love, a selfless kind of love that is unlike any of their other relationships. And, they express wanting lots of strategies for making the most of their time together.

I would like to let you know about a new online program I have developed, as part of my doctoral program in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin -Madison.  I am currently looking for fathers to participate in a free, new online, multi-media program designed to help them adjust and parent after divorce or separation. I would greatly appreciate your help in sharing this program through your available networks, websites and newsletters.

Below are some ways you can share this program:

  • Copy and paste the program information provided below into an email, newsletter, or other forms of communication
  • Post the program information on your blog and social media accounts like Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Tweet:  New Online, multimedia program for fathers to adjust and parent after divorce/separation available at www.divorceddadinstitute.com
  • Direct people to the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ApartNotBrokenLearnConnectCreate
  • Send people directly to the homepage: www.divorceddadinstitute.com
  • Share directly with fathers you know and encourage them to sign up!

Thanks in advance for your willingness to share this program!

_____________________________________________________________

Program information: 

Fathers who experience divorce or separation can feel like they are starting over. Many say it is not what they expected, and harder then they thought it would be. They feel alone and miss their kids.

Apart, Not Broken: Learn, Connect, & Create gives fathers a place to:

Learn: Learn from the real experiences of other fathers. Get current information and recommendations for dealing with divorce and parenting after separation.

Connect: Use concrete examples and creative strategies to connect with their child and manage their relationship with their child’s mother.

Create: Create the relationship they want to have with child. Build new traditions and lasting memories.

This program is equipped with: 

  • Videos reflecting the real life experiences of other divorced fathers;
  • A discussion forum for you to connect and share with other fathers;
  • Online tools for sharing photos, comparing calendars, journaling, using a whiteboard, and communicating via chat, video chat, and email;
  • Current and concise information about divorce & parenting after divorce;
  • Recommended activities for you and your child; and
  • Additional resources such as book lists and helpful websites.

This innovative, multi-media program is:

  • Free of charge;
  • Released over a 12-week period, with a minimum time commitment of 30-45 minutes/week;
  • Available 24/7 at any location with an Internet connection;
  • Flexible, allowing you to spend as much time as you would like on various aspects of the program.
  • This program is for fathers who have a child between the ages of 8-16, and have been divorced or separated within the last two years.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Shelly D. Mahon, Program Director
Ph.D Candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
http://www.divorceddadinstitute.com
apartnotbroken@gmail.com
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Is My Teen’s Behavior Too Risky?

Picture this scene:

Mom and dad are out of town for a week.  In their absence, a good friend is watching their house and their two teenagers kids. Things go smoothly Friday and Saturday night.  However, the tides turn!  While everyone nestles into bed Sunday evening, 16 year old James is on the phone with his girlfriend.  He and Amanda have been dating for almost a month and have not seen each other for days.  Yearning to see one another, they decide to meet up in the night.  The plan: James will drive over to Amanda’s house around 2:00 a.m. Amanda will sneak out and meet him on the corner of her street. The two of them will drive around or go to a park, and be home before sunrise.  The clock strikes 1:45 and James hits the road. At exactly 2:00, Amanda meets him down the street from her house.  The two drive around for a while and find themselves talking under a tree in the park. Everything is going as planned until…..they fall asleep!  Monday morning rolls around and the house sitter wakes up to find his car is missing!  Immediately, he checks both bedrooms. The youngest boy is sound asleep, but the oldest is gone. He tries to call James, but there is no answer.  Increasingly upset, he notifies his employer that he will not be at work and he waits to hear from the boy.  At around 9:30, James rolls through the front door in a major panic. Carrying a box of doughnuts he says, “I am soooo sorry! I wanted to surprise you with doughnuts for breakfast, but I fell asleep while I was waiting for the store to open.

I will leave the rest to your imagination. The point is that teens take risks. They are completely immersed in gaining a deeper understanding of themselves and how the world works. They do things they are not supposed to do. They even think through them “logically”.  However, they rely on their logic, not the logic of an adult brain.  The teenage brain is actually programmed to take risks.  Specifically, their brain has elevated levels of dopamine, a natural transmitter that creates the sensation of pleasure when stimulated.  Taking risks stimulates this pleasure center, giving them a thrilling sensation when the dopamine is released.

Most common risk-taking behaviors can be clumped into 4 categories:

  1. Drug/alcohol use/abuse,
  2. Unsafe sex, teen pregnancy, and teen parenting,
  3. School failure, underachievement, and drop-out, and
  4. Delinquency, crime, and violence.

These categories are probably not surprising to you. In fact, it is likely that they are the very things you worry about.  At the end of the day, parents are left knowing that they will not always be there in the very moment their teen is forced to make a decision.  Now, knowing what the risks are, and that it is normal for teens to take more risks than then their younger and older counterparts does not make it easier for parents. Parents are still left with the looming question, “Is my teen’s behavior too risky?”

How do you know when your teen’s behavior is too risky? Pay attention to:

Age: Engaging in risky behaviors at an early age can have both immediate and long-term consequences. Educate your teen on the risks they may face. Help them understand how risks can effect their brain, relationships, and future opportunities.  Know who is in your teen’s peer group. Spending time with older kids can introduce behaviors earlier than the “norm”.

Amount: Take it seriously, but don’t overreact. Dabbling is not the same as chronic risk-taking. Experts show that the consequence go up significantly when teens take risks in multiple areas, in part because risk begets more risk.  Pay attention to what is going on in their world. Create space for constant communication, and insist that your teen lets you know where he/she is, and with whom. Monitor and supervise whenever possible.

School: Teens who are engaged in school are less likely to get into trouble.  It is also important for parents to have high expectations for good conduct and performance. Having high expectations is not the same as pressuring your teen. Establish clear rules and give consequences when they are not met.  Avoid pressuring or attaching meaning to the teen’s character or abilities when they make mistakes.

Other activities: Weigh risky behaviors against other activities. Teens who are doing well in school, have friends that value school, and participate in some form of extracurricular activity are likely to be right on track. These factors can buffer teens from risks. If you are faced with a problem, look at how well your teen is doing in other areas of his/her life.

Environment: Environment can have a big impact on risk-taking behavior because it impacts what is available in a particular neighborhood or community.  For example, it is estimated that those living in low-income communities are up to 5 times more likely to take risks.  Parents can reduce the impact of environment by creating structure, using discipline, and monitoring their teen, while also being loving, affectionate, and available.

What Else Can You Do?

Focus on Preparing Youth:  Don’t just focus on protecting your teen from risks. While that is important, it is equally important to help your teen be fully prepared for the world. This means putting energy into providing opportunities, cultivating their potential, and surrounding them with supportive adults and healthy environments.   

Create opportunities for positive risk-taking:  Taking a risk means doing something outside of your comfort zone, the place where experts say growth occurs. For some teens, this can take the form of joining a new club, participating in a different sport, or taking on a leadership position.  Having opportunities to take “appropriate” risks can reduce a teen’s desire to take “inappropriate” risks.  Have them try wake boarding or mountain biking to get that dopamine release!

Get Help: Reach out to a school counselor, local therapist, or another trusted professional if you are concerned about your teen’s behavior. I once heard a teen say, “A therapist is just a friend when you feel like you don’t have one. You don’t need them as much once you know yourself better and can reach out when you need help.”  It can be a blessing to let other trusted adults contribute to your teen.

These years are sure to be a wild ride, with the occasional bump in the road.  Some things can be expected, but others will be your child’s unique expression of being a teenager.  Consider that risk-taking is a necessary part of your teen’s grown and development.  After all, what would life be like if you never took risks? The goal is to steer them in such a way that they use risk-taking to expand their potential, and avoid actions that can have serious, or even lifelong consequences.  As a good friend of mine once said, “the mountain may be steep, but at the end of it all you will be better for the climb.”

Happy Parenting!

Note: Within the next month, I will no longer be blogging at parentingteensinfo.com. If you enjoy my posts and access it through this site, please consider following my blog directly to receive notifications of new posts. Thanks!

Something Has Got To Change! Creating Habits for School Success

It is natural to put a lot of energy into the transition back to school. Don’t forget that it is just as important to develop good habits throughout the entire year. Consider that many of the things that you do on a day-to-day basis are not well thought out decisions, but habits. This is as true for your teen as it is for you, and can have a big impact on how well your teen does in school.

As the newness of the school year wears off, families begin settling into new routines. How are things going so far? Try completing the following sentence, “Now that the school year is underway….”

  1. Everything is going great!
  2. My teen is already behind!
  3. I feel like all I do is nag!
  4. My teen seems stressed out!

New routines or habits are established in the first few weeks, and can impact on how or what your teen does in school.  Don’t forget that it is just as easy to develop good habits, as it is to develop bad ones. Without some consideration, we can even absent-mindedly fall back into old habits. If you notice that certain things are not working, it is time to reprogram that habit!

How are habits formed? Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to the basal ganglia, the part of our brain that plays a major role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, however, are made in the prefrontal cortex.  This portion of the brain helps us think through situations with logic.  Once a behavior becomes a habit, it is automatic and the prefrontal cortex goes into a sleep mode of sorts.

When does a behavior become a habit? In the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, Charles Duhigg attributes habit formation to what he calls the habit loop.  Even though this book was written for businesses to boost effectiveness, the concepts in the book are easily applied to individuals and families wanting to create habits that increase workability and success.

The habit loop is made up of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Cues trigger the behaviors that we engage in for some kind of reward by kicking our brain into automatic mode. These cues can be internal, such as thoughts or feelings, or external such as time of day or spending time with a particular person. Routines are the behaviors themself. Routines can be physical (having a snack when you get home), cognitive (remembering to do homework), or emotional (feeling anxious). Rewards are the things we like that help are brain remember the habit loop in the future. Our behaviors become automatic when we crave the reward.   Like routines, rewards are also physical (I’m no longer hungry), cognitive (I gained new information), or emotional (I feel more relaxed).

What are your habits? It can be helpful to look at your own habits before you evaluate your teen’s habits.  What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you walk half awake to the kitchen and make coffee…staring at the machine until the coffee comes out? Do you crawl out of bed and get straight into the shower?  Regardless of your answer, it’s not likely this is something you decided to do; it’s a habit.  Now, whether you make coffee or take a shower first probably doesn’t make a real big difference in how your day goes.  However, other things like whether you go for a run when you get home from work, or eat dinner in front of the television can have a bigger impact on how you live your life and your overall health and well being.

What kind of habits can impact your teen’s school performance? While these will differ from family to family, here are some of the big ones are:

  • Staying healthy: Getting good rest, eating healthy, exercising
  • Getting organized: Writing assignments, projects, and tests in a calendar
  • Creating structure around homework: Having a time and place to study
  • Being prepared: Having all necessary materials available
  • Having support systems in place: Asking parents and teachers for help
  • Creating balance: Managing activities, homework, chores, and leisure time
  • Limiting distracting activities: Watching television, gaming, texting or being on Facebook
  • Staying positive: Maintaining a positive attitude about school and learning in general

What are your teen’s habits? You may notice that your teen has missing assignments, texts while doing homework, is late for school, doesn’t get enough rest, or appears completely stressed out. If something isn’t working, consider helping your teen change his/her habits. According to Duhigg, habit change involves keeping the cue and the reward the same, while changing the routine.  To do this, help your teen:

  • Believe that change is possible and within his/her control. This can be challenging when many things are black and white to teens. You may have to help your teen generate options.
  • Identify cues and be on the lookout for them. For example: “I text a friend when I get stressed or frustrated with my homework. Then, I can’t concentrate on homework.” 
  • Notice the rewards. For example: “My stress goes down when I talk to my friends instead of doing homework.”
  • Substitute a behavior that provides a similar reward. For example: “My stress goes down when I take a five minute break and then go back to work.”

Sounds easy enough, right? But, we all know that change can be hard! How do you help your teen recognize that something isn’t working to the point that they need to change?  Listen for and help your teen see ambivalence. Explain that being unsure, having mixed feelings, and feeling one way and thinking another are all signs of being ambivalent, and usually means that something needs to change.  Also, make sure your teen knows that we all feel ambivalent when we are faced with change.  Using our previous example, a teen may express her ambivalence around texting while doing homework like this: “I want to get my homework done quicker, but I also want to be there for my friends when they need me.”

Next, listen for and ask questions that get them talking about change. Asking questions like the ones below can help draw out the meaning your teen gives a particular change.

  • Desire: Why would you want to make this change?
  • Ability: How would you do it if you decided?
  • Reason: What are the three best reasons?
  • Need: How important is it? and why?
  • Commitment: What do you think you’ll do?

Using our example, a teen may say things like, “I want to finish my homework quicker so that I have more free time!” or “I could tell my friends to text me after 6:00.” Or, you could ask questions like, “How important is it to you to get your homework done quicker?” or “Why do you text your friends while you are doing homework.” Asking these kind of questions can also give you more information about the rewards for certain behaviors.

Having a  conversation about what is not working, and giving your teen a voice in the decision can be empowering. When your teen is empowered, he/she is more likely to cooperate and create workability for you and your teen.  Remember, the more you’re your teen wants to change the more likely it is to stick!

Happy Parenting!

Raising Teens: Get In Their World

Dear Mom and Dad,

I am writing this to tell you a little about how I am feeling and let you know that I am trying to understand how you are feeling too. There are some things I would like to ask of you. One, I would like it if you could try to see things through my eyes.  I have been trying to do that with you and I think you would see me differently if you did that too. Two, I would like it if everything was not all my fault. I know that I need to take responsibility for some things, but not 100% of things. Three, it really hurts when you say I am being a certain way and I don’t think fits me. Words like rude, dramatic, or self-centered make me feel bad. You may not always use those words, but the message is clear. Four, sometimes I don’t get enough time to cool down when I am upset or I just don’t feel like talking about it right now. I want to respect you, but I want you to respect me too. When these things don’t work, I feel down inside and it is hard for me to set myself up for success. I am only saying all this to tell you how I am feeling and try to  find a way to work things out easier. Please write me back.

Wow! That is a lot for a 14-year old to say, and it shows that while parents can get stuck thinking that “kids are just kids”, teens are often capable of thinking and expressing themselves beyond what we  believe is possible.  While you may not have received a letter like this one, your teen has probably shared his/her thoughts and feelings in one way or another.  These can come out in a variety of ways ranging from calm discussions or letters like this one to angry yelling or tearful breakdowns.  Her letter is an expression of her emotional intelligence, or her ability to:

  • Know her own feelings,
  • Use her feelings to make decisions,
  • Manage distress and control impulses,
  • Take actions that move her toward her goals,
  • Show empathy – know how others are feeling, and
  • Manage emotions in her relationships.

The trap for parents is that they can find themselves analyzing, reacting, or responding point-by-point to what is shared.  But actually, their sharing is a perfect opportunity to GET IN THEIR WORLD!   What teens really wants is for their parents to “get them”… to understand who they are and what they are going through.

Using the letter above, you can begin to “get her” by  trying to understand what is at the source of her words. What is it that she really wants you to know about her?  You may see that she wants to be:

  • Understood in the context of her world – the teenage world,
  • Seen as responsible,
  • Seen as a part of, but not the sole source of the problem or argument,
  • Thought highly of ,
  • Respected, and
  • Given space to calm down.

Given that, how might you respond to her? Being in her world would involve putting aside your own thoughts and emotions and focusing on what she wants you to understand about her. For example, you could let her know that you think she is responsible. You could even give examples of her being responsible.

The next time you have an opportunity to be get in your teens world, try the following techniques:

  • Focus on fostering openness and trust in your relationship. Generally, this means creating a safe environment for sharing by listening and showing that you believe your teens thoughts and feelings are valid and important.
  • Stay focused on what your teen shares. Be careful not to react to triggers of your own thoughts and feelings. You will have an opportunity to share what is important to you later.
  • Address what is at the source of your teens thoughts or feelings and avoid focusing on picky details. In the example above, you can hear that she wants to be understood. Try saying something like, “It sounds like you feel really misunderstood and I want to understand you”
  • Repeat what is said, so that your teen has the experience of being heard.  For example, “So, what I hear you telling me is…..” (put it in your own words but restate what was said).
  • Dig a little deeper by asking your teen if you missed anything, or if he/she would like to tell you more. Phrases like, “Did I get that right?”,  “Have I missed anything? or “Do you want to tell me more about that?” can help you dig a little deeper.
  • Point out the outcome you think your teen wants. I hear you saying that you would like to be heard. You would like it if I listened to you without interrupting.”
  • Create with your teen. Make some agreements. For example, you could agree to be AWESOME listeners, or to allow space before talking about heated issues.

Once teens feel gotten, they are much  more open to listening to you.  It is at this point that you can share what is going on for you and give your teen an opportunity to practice getting someone else.  It is through these kind of interactions that emotional intelligence is built and fostered!

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Your Teen Is Changing! What Can You Do About It?

Michelangelo said that when he set out to sculpt a statue from a formless block of marble, he sought only to remove the excess marble from the statue that already existed inside the block. This is what Aristotle called accidental change.  Aristotle believed that when change occured, something new came to be, something old passed away, and something stayed the same throughout.

While we constantly watch our children change, the teen years are some of the most pronounced. Your teen will go through pubertal changes, as well as changes in brain structure, cognitive capabilities, and sexual interest.  They will also experience changes in the roles they assume in their family, community, and school.  Outside of their own development, teens must adjust to the changing world around them. For example, teens have experienced the rapid growth in technology, changing views in politics, and emerging styles in music and clothing.

Whether we are talking about normal development or changes in the world around us, some will be easier than others. People often respond to change with phrases like, “Come what may”, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”, and “What we resist persists.”  When people really don’t want to deal with change, they often look for proof to justify that it isn’t really happening or necessary.

One thing to consider is how Aristotle’s description of change fits your teen. Try taking a day or two to live in wonder of who your teen really is right now.  Have a good look at what has emerged, passed away, or  been the same for as long as you can remember. This can happen in a variety of areas such as personality traits, tastes in food, interests, styles, and levels independence. Why do this? Because, change happens so quickly we can miss it if we don’t pay attention.

Another thing to consider is how you deal with your teen changing. Do you avoid it or embrace it? Do you prepare for it or deal with it as it comes?  Do you accept it or wish things would just stay the same.  It is important to consider how you deal with change because your response can actually have an impact on your teen’s experience of him/herself.  For example, let’s say your teen’s interest switches from playing football to guitar. Embracing this change may open up opportunities for your teen to feel excited, proud, and adventurous. However, responding with criticism may generate feelings of hesitation, sadness, and guilt.

Finally, consider that you can have an impact on how your child changes by what you expose them to, and how you embrace what they choose to explore.  Teens often take your openness and interest in them as a pure expression of love. One time, I heard a teen tell his mom, “It means so much to me that you are open to me trying on different nutritional diets. It means even more that you will do them with me. It says that you care about what matters to me and I love you for it.”

While change looks different for every teen, it is inevitable.  Regardless of how you feel about it, change helps to shape the adult your teen becomes.  Challenge yourself to be a positive contribution and enjoy it along the way.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

The Practice of “Still Lake” in Parenting Your Teen

How would you complete the sentence, “Parenthood is……”?

It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Becoming a parent immediately changes you. From that moment forward, you put your child’s needs ahead of your own. Parenting is one of the few things that can make you strive to be the best person you can be. Sometimes, it is smooth sailing. Other times, it is the perfect storm. You may find yourself challenged by the very things that make you who you are as a person.  Your personality, past experiences, expectations, and hopes can get in the way of you having the kind of interaction you want to have with your teen. Sometimes we say or do things we don’t mean. Other times, we are simply stuck. When we feel lost, we turn to friends, other parents, books, health professions, or anyone else we trust to provide us with honest and helpful advice.  We do all of this in an effort to raise happy and healthy children.

In a conversation over dinner the other night, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have people with whom I can share this journey. Our conversation made me think of a symbol from my Tae Kwon Do practice. This symbol is called “Still Lake“, which means “strong on the inside, calm and gentle on the outside”.   It represents a person’s ability to live with grace and confidence. It is a reminder that one does not have to be “tough” to be “strong” and it is symbolic of being aware of oneself and the impact that you have on those around you. It is about having poise in your interactions with others.  This symbol represents being comfortable enough in who you are to be truly present with someone else.  Still Lake can exist in all relationships, with one of the biggest being your relationship with your teen. You can practice still lake in your parenting by focusing on: (1) having an empty mind, (2) removing the meaning, and (3) cleaning things up.

Having an Empty Mind: When you have an empty mind, you remove any filter that you have about how a particular interaction is going to go. Often times, we come to conversations with an expectation of what someone is going to say or do. This pre-existing filter can impact how you respond to your teen. For example, think about a typical interaction with a teen who struggles to do homework. If you are used to your teen resisting homework, you may come to your next interaction expecting him/her to fidget or lack focus. This expectation will guide both how you talk to and respond to your teen.  You react to what you expect, not what is really going on at the time. We can only be fully present with our teen when we remove the filters of what we expect will happen based on past experience.

Removing the Meaning:  The moment something happens, we assign meaning.  It is human nature and happens almost instantaneously. For example, someone says, “I can’t believe you said that,” and you make it mean, “She must think I am stupid for saying that.”  You might tell your daughter, “Those shorts are too short,” and she makes it mean, “My mom thinks I’m being sleazy.”  Your son may get bumped in the shoulder by a friend during passing period at school, and he makes it mean that person is mad at him.  The truth is, we can drive ourselves crazy trying to guess what someone or something means, and usually we are wrong. Like having an empty mind, being aware of this is important because it can dictate how you are around a person in the future. For example, a teen would probably be different to a parent’s comment about short shorts if she believed her mom respected her. Similarly, a teen would likely be different to a teen that accidentally bumped him then one he thinks is mad at him. Whenever you see your teen assigning meaning to something, help him/her to: (1) recognize the assumed meaning up front, (2) generate other possible options, and (3) focus on what is actually true about the situation, instead of perpetuating what they “think” is true.

Cleaning It Up: You know there is something to clean up when you feel like something was left unsaid, misunderstood, or taken the wrong way. Whatever is left undone between two people exists in the space between them. Let’s say that you hollered at your daughter about her short shorts while her friend was over. Outside of being embarrassed, she may be left feeling like you don’t think she has any self-respect. That feeling will go into the bucket of “what mom or dad thinks of me”. It may even become something that she takes on as part of how she defines herself. Cleaning it up involves a few steps:

  • Affirm your relationships.

“You are so important to me and I really want you to have what you deserve in life. One of those things is to be respected by others.”

  • Recognize your part of the conversation.

“I don’t think anything bad of you. In fact, I think your shorts are cute. Right or wrong, I worry that people will not respect you as much if you wear them.” 

  • Acknowledge the impact you had on her.

“I am sorry that I embarrassed you in front of your friend.  I realize I may have even made you feel bad about yourself for wanting to wear them. I don’t think your shorts say anything about you as a person.”

  • Ask if there is anything you can do.

“Do you want me to say something to your friend? Can I take you shopping for some shorts that we both like?”

Still Lake represents the balance between strength and vulnerability.  You have to be “strong” to have an open mind and remove all the meaning so that you can understand what is actually true about a situation.  And, you have to be vulnerable to say you are sorry and admit your contribution. Still Lake is a practice in self-awareness. It is not about being perfect; it is about being real. You will find that teens appreciate it when you are real with them. It makes them feel as though they too can be strong, vulnerable and real with you.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

What’s Going On? My Teen Seems So Far Away!

One of the barriers to communication is the naturally occurring distancing that takes place during adolescence. Communication during the teen years can be especially challenging because of the rapid changes that occur in their physical bodies and social worlds.  The first thing to remember is that as your child moves through the teen years, he/she will become more private. Teens often move toward writing in their journal, hiding in their bedroom, and holding private conversations with friends via text or instant message. Recently, a mom who was trying to monitor her teen’s use of Facebook and cell phone told me, “My 12-year old hates it when I am in her business. The other day she screamed ‘Don’t read my texts! That is just weird. I don’t want you to see my private conversations!’”

Think back to your own adolescence. Were there certain things that you really didn’t want to talk to your parents about? How did you decide what to share and what to keep to yourself? The truth is, most often teen are not trying to be devious or dishonest; they are simply in the process of separating themselves from their parents. While it is important to remember that this individuation is part of how teens develop their identity and become their own person, it is also important to remember that sometimes you have to interject yourself into their world to keep them safe and healthy.  This requires paying a lot of attention to what is going on in your teen’s life. Everything from school, friends, and activities to feelings, moods, and actions is important. You know it is time to intervene when you sense that something is wrong, or suspect that your teen is holding something that could put him/her in danger.

Certainly, too much distancing can have other negative impacts on your relationship by removing opportunities to share and connect with one another. Remember that giving your teen space is not the same as staying out of the way completely.  Even though increased independence can reduce the amount of one-on-one time you have with your child, it does not have to translate to zero time or poor communication.  Part of parenting is being able to find the balance between giving children room to grow, while also establishing a safe environment with rules for behavior that match your beliefs and values.

The difficult part of this life stage is that these changes take place at the same time that your teen requires lots of guidance and monitoring to navigate new freedoms and opportunities. Teens need continued structure, attention, reassurance, and love from their parents as they try to find their way.  Often times, your life experience will help you to recognize when your child needs you.  Remember, sometimes teens will push their parents away so that they will pull them closer. Let your teen know that you pay attention because of your love and your ability to use the knowledge, experience, and the resources you have gathered over time to help them grow and develop.  Your teen will be more likely to share with you when the message is “I can help you” versus “You are going to be in trouble”.

Finally, don’t take it personally when your teen is quiet and distant. Focus on taking advantage of the opportunities you get to make connections and show interest in them. If these opportunities do not come frequently enough, create the space you need to interact in such a way that you have more opportunities. The virtual world we live in, and the ease with which teens use cell phones and other technology, opens up new doors for connection. Regardless of your means of communication, reaching out to your child says, “My mom/dad thinks of me. My mom/dad loves me”.  Staying in touch while being compassionate and understanding of your teen’s need for independence can go a long way in building understanding and trust between the two of you.

Other things to consider in maintaining a connection with your child during this phase:

  • Share aspects of yourself with your teen.  This can prompt your teen to share in return.
  • Be creative about how you interact with one another. Find ways to communicate regularly. You may have to schedule something a trip to the coffee shop on the way to school or a weekly lunch outing.
  • Make your communication engaging by talking about things he/she enjoys. Help your teen see that you are not prying or snooping, rather you are interested in who they are as a person.
  • Take personal responsibility for creating a loving relationship with your child. Making your teen feel like he/she is responsible can backfire, or make your child feel burdened with guilt, uncertainty, and/or sadness.
  • If you feel it in your gut, there is probably something going on that you need to know about. Your knowing could keep your teen safe, or give you an opportunity to you’re your teen make an informed decision or better choice.  Don’t be afraid to be up front with your child about your concern.