Connect With Your Teen Through Music

One of the greatest things about teenagers is the wonder, passion, and intensity through which they see the world and live their lives.  They are curious, thoughtful, and dramatic.  For many teens, music becomes a major way to express themselves and feel through their emotions.  The love struck teen makes a playlist of love songs.  The heart-broken teen listens to sad songs to get through loss.  The athletic teen listens to music to get pumped up for an event. The happy teen blasts music and sings along. Teens are not afraid to dance to music in the rain, or play it loudly throughout the house and from the car.

The massive increase in technology certainly presents challenges for parents. However, technology can also help you stay connected to your teen. The important thing is that your teen learns to protect his/her online identity, and that you guide and monitor their use.  YouTube is very popular site among teenagers. With YouTube, teens can listen to any song they want and create playlists of their favorites.  You too can create a YouTube account, and subscribe to your teen’s playlists (as long as your teen has made them public). I personally have a YouTube account, I subscribe to my teens lists, and I mine through their music.  You may or may not like the same kind of music your teen likes.  But, there are a number of reasons to tune in!

1.  You Can Use Their Music To Express Your Feelings For Them.  I came across the following song while looking through one of my son’s YouTube playlists.  It says so much about the relationship I have with both of my children. It also says a lot about who I want to be for them.  One line in particular says, “You can ALWAYS come home”.  I gave both my teens this song and told them it made me think of them.  Sometimes, it is the simple things that say I LOVE YOU!

2.  You Can Learn About Your Teen. The music your teen listens to can reflect his/her interests. Songs communicate a range of experiences, beliefs, and desires. While it can be easy to be concerned by some of the lyrics, don’t get stuck there. Teens often overlook the negativity and stand in the values you have taught them. Depending on your teen’s age, lyrics may even go over their head.  Knowing what your teen is listening to can be the first step in having a conversation about what you think.

3.  Music Creates Relationship Through Commonality: I once heard a dad tell a beautiful story about reconnecting with his son by taking him to a Metallica concert.  He was excited to share that the silence that was present on the way to the concert was non-existent on the way home.  In fact, his son talked his ear off, not only about the concert, but about all kinds of other things that were going on in his world.  The father was proud of himself for being able to sit through the whole concert, even though he preferred classical music.  He told his son that “they were not as bad as he thought they would be”.  But, he left out the part about wearing earplugs the entire time.  The point was never to fall in love with Metallica’s music. It was to spend quality time doing something his son loved.

4.  It Gives Your Teen An Opportunity to Share:  Being a teenager can be like living in an entirely separate society. Our culture even perpetuates this by using terms like “youth culture”.  The concept of a “youth culture” is that teens live by their own set of rules, roles, and responsibilities, which separates them from adults. This separation can as teens feeling like adults are always telling them what to do.  When you show an interest in their music, you are giving them an opportunity to share a little piece of them. They are left feeling like you are interested in them.

5.  It Helps You Understand What They May Be Going Through: If you pay attention, music can cue you into what is going on in your teen’s life.  You can use a song to start a conversation, or to show that you are interested in them or what they are going through.  You can also use song lyrics as a teachable moment.  For example, rather than sitting down at the table to have a conversation about drinking alcohol, use the lyrics from a song to generate a two way dialogue.

6.  It Keeps You Current. Teens like it when adults understand their world. Whether or not you actually like their music, it makes them feel accepted for who they are if you know something about it. Parenting teens is never a popularity contest because we must always be present to protecting, coaching, and disciplining. Knowing their music can, however, up the Cool Factor.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

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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!

Positive Parenting Tips to Build Self Esteem in Teens

Just recently, I was talking with a 16 year old teen about what it was like to be 16. He said,

There is a lot of change at 16. You know it is hard to believe I am almost 17, and that 10 months ago I was just 15….there is a very big difference between being 15 and 17! A lot has changed in my life. I have gained some good things, and some bad things. I have lost some good things and some bad things. Now, I am deciding who I want to be.

What a great way to put it!  At 15 years old, teens are just entering middle adolescence.  High school is a new experience, thinking is becoming more abstract, and opportunities for new activities (both in school and with peers) are expanding rapidly.  By 17 years old, teens are gaining more and more autonomy and developing increasing amounts of responsibility for themselves and for their choices. They may be driving, working, dating, and juggling activities and school.

This period of time is a transformative time when teens try on new styles, build new friendships, take new jobs, and engage in new activities…..all in a search for understanding who they are,  who they are becoming, and who they want to be in the future. They are living out the consequences of their choices, however negative or positive they may be.  Even though many teens are reflecting on how their choices shape their identity, lack of brain development in the frontal lobe can make it challenging for them to think deep into the future.  As parents, it is important to remember that you can facilitate increased awareness by showing empathy, asking questions, and sharing your experiences with your teen.

Teens this age can act like adults one minute and kids the next, as they actively work to integrate all the different aspects of the self.  Throughout this process, teens need parents to use positive parenting techniques that help them build self-esteem and confidence.  Positive parenting is a psychological term that is used more and more to describe a form of disciplining children and teens. It differs from the more traditional sequence of positive rewards and negative punishments by putting a bigger focus is on communication, empathy, and understanding. Positive parenting can be done in conjunction with setting limits and boundaries that match your family’s needs and values. Below are 5 positive parenting tips that can help you connect with your teen:

  • Seek understanding: Try to approach situations from their perspective. Teens like it when you try to speak their language.
  • Talk with them, not at them: This means asking lots of questions, searching for clarity, rephrasing what they say back to them.
  • Get to their level: Sit together so that your eyes can connect at the same level.
  • Separate the deed from the doer: Show teens unconditional love by addressing the behavior without being critical of them as individuals.
  • State what you would like, not what you don’t like: Try saying “Feel free to take hourly breaks to check your Facebook” instead of “Don’t get on Facebook while you are doing homework!”

There is a consistent link between self-esteem in children and these kinds of parenting characteristics. Children with high self-esteem describe their parents as encouraging independence and being accepting of who they are as individuals.

Making a Difference in Your Teen’s Life

Parenting teens is so different than parenting younger children. Parenting young children involves teaching them about the world, giving them boundaries, and keeping them safe. The older they get, the more parents learn about who their child is and what their child needs to grow into adulthood. Home can provides a place where teens can talk about their day and ask questions in a safe environment. In that way, parents try to provide the scaffolding and unconditional love that allows their teen to take healthy risks and learn from their experiences.

Recently, a parenting professional by the name of Laura Kaine sent out a YouTube video called “You are Special” by Nick Vujicic. A few years ago, I saw another presentation of his. He was speaking to high school students about never giving up. In this presentation, he gave the message that if he could do the things he does with no limbs, they should be able to accomplish anything they put their mind to. This message leaves us with the reality that our teens must choose to put their mind to it. When teen are struggling to make that choice, parents have to try to stay in relationship and support their teen as much as possible.

Of course, parents are not unaware of the power of peers. Who your teen chooses to spend time with provides another context for information. Sometimes it is the parent’s role to intervene when that information is either inaccurate or creating an unsafe environment for their teen. It is important to remember that even though it can feel like your efforts go unnoticed, parenting is involves conveying unconditional love, providing appropriate boundaries, and having lots of conversations. It doesn’t mean that you are going to get it right all the time because we are all human. But, as much as possible parents can try to have an open dialogue with their teen instead of lecturing them.

Check out this video about the impact of parents …. it is inspiring! AND continue to remember that you really do make a difference.

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What are the Consequences & What Happens If They Don’t Work?

As parents, we know our teens are going to make mistakes. Sometimes these are small mistakes, and other times they are pretty big mistakes….mistakes that fill our souls with fear for our teen. What comes of these mistakes can vary, but one thing is for sure…eventually there are consequences for their actions. Consequences can take many forms. They can happen naturally or they can be imposed on teens by parents, teachers, administrators, or other authorities. They can be immediate, or they can be the result of events that take place over several months or longer.

You have probably heard the term natural consequences. In their purest form, natural consequences don’t require any intervention. For example, a boy who is running through the hall at school falls and hurts himself, or a girl who is being mean to a friend is ignored during lunch time. That sounds simple enough, right? The problem lies in the fact that our teens do not always get natural consequences for their actions. In fact, sometimes they are rewarded instead! Maybe the boy who ran through the hall gets the best presentation time because he got to the sign-up sheet first, or the girl who was mean to a friend is flooded with affection by the other girls who want her attention. What if natural consequences don’t work?

When consequences don’t naturally happen, parents try to instill logical consequences. These are consequences that make sense, or match the behavior that is being discouraged. When a boy “borrows” the car without asking, he loses driving privileges for a period of time. When a girl posts something inappropriate on her Facebook wall, she loses access to her account for a period of time. Experts suggest giving logical consequences as often as possible. Again, that sounds simple enough, right? Not always! Sometimes the logical consequence does not come to us, or we simply react with whatever comes to mind first. Your daughter fails to turn in her homework and you give her extra chores, or your son misses his curfew and you take away his cell phone. The consequences don’t really match the behavior.

How can you get better at using logical consequences? One option is to allow the natural consequence to happen, even when it is difficult for you as the parent. For example, let the daughter that isn’t turning in homework get the grade she earns. As hard as it is, this can create an opportunity for discussion around how she feels and what she would do differently. She will have to own it completely. When we as parents take responsibility for their grades, they don’t have to own their choices. Another option is to ask your teen what he/she thinks the consequence should be. Often, their consequence will make sense and be harsher than the one you would have given. This allows you to talk less and listen more. Asking questions like, “What do you think we should do” or “How are we going to handle this? can get them engaged. Finally, make it clear when there isn’t a choice. Every family has their own beliefs and values that set the foundation for how the family works.

What can you do if the consequence doesn’t work?

  • Ask yourself if the consequence fit the misbehavior. The farther the consequences get from the behavior, the less likely they are to work.
  • Give yourself some time. Don’t feel pressured to give an immediate consequence; sometimes you have to think about it for a while. Tell your teen how you are feeling and set a time to talk about it in the near future.
  • Search for the natural consequence and ask yourself if you are willing to let it happen.  While these are not always immediately apparent, they can surface when you take time to think.
  • Consider timing. Making decisions in the heat of the moment can be difficult or lead to impulse reactions. Give yourself, and/or your teen the necessary time to calm down.
  • Remove the anger. Say how you feel or how you imagine this makes your teen feel.  You can empathize and be kind at the same time that you give a consequence.
  • Establish respect. Make sure your teen knows you are upset with the behavior, but still accepts him/her.
  • Encourage positive behavior. Try to catch your teen being “good” by acknowledging when they are helpful, caring, cooperative, and supportive.
  • Give yourself a break! This is hard work sometimes.

Motivating Teens: Helping Them Meet Their Potential

I have three children: 13 (boy), 17 (girl), and 19 (boy). Over the years, I have experienced so many feelings about being a parent, and I have asked so many questions about whether I am doing it right. I am desperately trying to establish reasonable boundaries, set fair expectations, and show unconditional and never-ending love to my children. I don’t just love my children because they are my children, but because they are truly interesting, fun, and enjoyable people to be around. Still, they make mistakes. And in those moments, I question what I could have done differently? How could I have protected them from these mistakes? Is it a reflection of me, or my parenting? One minute they look like they have it all together, and the next they are caught fighting at school, not turning in their homework, or even worse…..” I know they are good people and I hope they embrace life with all their potential.

Does this sounds at all familiar? As parents, we want our children to be happy and we want them to reach their potential. We worry and we hope we are doing it right. It is important to recognize that parents play an important role, but they are not fully responsible.  In reality, a teen’s motivation, or desire to instigate and sustain certain goal-directed behaviors, is often out of our control.  Stay engaged by  considering ways in which you can have influence, and paying attention to other people, activities, and contexts that help your teen meet his/her needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Resized, renamed,...
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Abraham Maslow is a famous psychologist who believed that people are motivated by a series of needs, with some needs taking priority over others. His famous Hierarchy of Needs outlines five levels, each of which must be met before moving onto the next. His description of how people prioritize their needs can help explain what motivates teens to engage in certain behavior over others.

Maslow called the first four levels “deficit” needs because they represent voids that must be met in order to continue developing.  In the final level, “self-actualization”, people have met all their deficits and can focus on growing as a person and developing their true potential.  Self-actualized people are motivated by budding goals and desires for fulfillment.

It makes sense to say that a teen cannot work on developing a strong self-esteem if the basic needs of food, water, shelter, and physical and emotional safety are not being met.  Similarly, without a strong self-esteem, it is difficult to be creative and fully accepting of yourself and others. It is important to recognize that teens are immersed in a variety of contexts that contribute to their development in each of the five levels.  For example, while teens can gain a sense of love and belonging from family, they also need to feel like they are accepted as part of a peer group. As they move up the pyramid, teens continually set goals about who they want to be.

Importantly, who they want to be is impacted by how they see themselves.  For example, it is easier to say “I want to get straight A’s this semester” when you see yourself as good at school, hardworking, and/or intelligent.  Teens are more motivated when they think they can change, “I can get into the orchestra if I take lessons this summer.” And they are discouraged, or even quit trying, if they don’t think they can change.  “I can’t be on the cheerleading team because I am not athletic.” You can also stretch your teens perceptions of themselves by helping them extend present behaviors into the future.  For example, “Getting straight A’s will look great on your college application.” or “Trying out for cheerleading will help you get in shape and give you exposure to other sports you may like.” Helping teens reach their potential involves helping them set goals that stretch their current perceptions of themselves. It is moving them from a belief of “I am who I am” to “I can be who I want to be”. Below are some ways to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to our parenting:

  • Pay attention. Consider how your teen’s behavior is related to a particular need they might be trying to meet.
  • Do everything you can to make your home physically and emotionally safe
  • Provide unconditional love and instill a sense of belonging in the family. A sense of belonging comes, in part, from being a contributing member. Find ways in which your teen can make an ongoing investment in the family.
  • Learn about your teen’s peer group. Talk about what it means to belong to that group. Group norms and values are typically shared and can guide behavior. You want your teen to see the link between how the group defines itself and the activities/behaviors it engages in.
  • Help your teen reach his/her potential. Emphasize your teen’s ability to make changes and control his/her future. Teach your teen to seek out the resources he/she  needs to grow.
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Motivating Teens: What Does Self-Control Have To Do With It?

Think back to when you were 4 years old.  What would you do if someone put you in a room with a marshmallow and asked you not to eat it?  What if the person said you could have two marshmallows if you could wait 15 minutes to eat it? Would it be easier to hold off then? In the short video below, Dr. David Walsh suggests that the ability to resist the marshmallow is linked to happiness, school success, popularity, and overall adjustment, all the way up to 18 years of age.

The message is clear. Saying no to our children and teaching them to say no to themselves could be a great benefit to them.  Why?  Because the ability to withhold immediate gratification of the small pleasures in life could help them achieve bigger goals. Being able to resist immediate gratification requires self-control and achieving goals requires motivation. So, let’s look at how motivation and self-control work together. Continue reading “Motivating Teens: What Does Self-Control Have To Do With It?”