It's so important that parents have open lines of communication with their teenagers. When teens feel like they can talk to their parents, they can work through a lot of problems and avoid even more. But it's not always easy to have good communication with teens.
Being a surly teenager is par for the course, and it's tough on everyone. Teens are going through a developmental stage in which they need to assert their autonomy and identity, so their behaviour can be pretty off-putting to their parents and other adults.
What parents need to understand is that just because their teen might be pushing them away with obnoxious behaviour and eye-rolling, it doesn't mean that the young person has no need for parental support.
In fact, because this is such a loaded time, teens need more support and guidance than ever. They're exploring their identity, sexuality and aspirations. They need someone wiser and more experienced to talk to, but they'll run the other way if they're feeling judged or coerced. They want an accepting listener who'll support them in their goals and guide them in their life choices; not judge, jury and executioner.
Teens need to feel connected to their parents if they're going to open up to them, but it's harder these days for teens to connect. Social media makes it easier to be isolated and disconnected from parents and peers, as teens can opt to plug in to their technology and stay plugged in, rather than build real-life relationships.
It's up to the parents to foster these invaluable connections. They can do this by involving the teens in regular parent-child or family activities. It can be family dinners; attending religious services together; weekly bike-riding, hikes in the woods or basketball games; doing hobbies or crafts together; family games night; volunteer work in the community; visiting relatives, or any other activity that consistently brings the teen together with their parents.
These activities are positive in and of themselves, and they provide the teen with ample opportunity for bonding with their parents and for sharing what's on their mind. The more time parents spend with their teen, engaged in positive activities, the better their relationships will be and the easier it will be for the teen to open up, and express their hopes, fears and problems.
Opening the lines of communication with a teenager involves building trust. The teen has to trust their parents to be supportive rather than judgmental; concerned rather than punitive; respectful rather than dismissive. And while not following their teenager around, the parents must be available if the teen needs them. A sense of trust facilitates unfettered communication between teens and parents.
Even when they're pushing us away, teens need to feel loved and cared for. They may not be able to show us affection very well or very often, but they need to know that we accept them for exactly who they are, even if we're not comfortable with every one of their choices,
It's such an interesting time. Teens need to provoke and sometimes even offend us, but they also need to know that we aren't going anywhere. When teens feel that sense of love and security, and especially, our ongoing unconditional acceptance, they'll share their most intimate secrets with us, enabling us to keep them safe and sound and on the right track.
Teenagers can be frustrating, exasperating, overwhelming and enraging, but they can also be wonderful to spend time with. Young people have a way of looking at things that's unique and refreshing, and they have a lot to offer us, as well.
Just the other day, I found myself talking about the new "Cher" on the scene. Not Cher Sarkesian, or even Cher Horowitz, but rapper and model Cher Lloyd. Hang around with teenagers, and there's always something to learn.
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Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime Source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Nearly half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem. Source: CMHA
Latest studies showed more than 1.3 million young Canadians have a mood disorder or addiction. Two-thirds had symptoms before the age of 15. Source: Statistics Canada, Government of Canada
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15- to 24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents. In 2012, 261 Canadian kids and teens took their own lives. Source: CMHA, Statistics Canada
LGBTQ youth face about 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers Source: CMHA Ontario
First Nations youth are at a higher risk. The suicide rate among First Nations youth is roughly five to seven times higher than that of the general population. Source: Parliament of Canada study, 2014
People with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than those without. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy. Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Contending with her bipolar disorder brought Yashi Brown to poetry, and with it, she's trying to end the stigma of mental illness.
If you need help, visit ementalhealth.ca to search for services in your area. Or call the Kids' Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, it's Canada's only free phone counselling service for youth under 20.
More From Frame Of Mind:
- Our Daughter Fell Through The Cracks Of Our Mental Health System
- Depression Is More Than Being Sad
- Suicide Prevention: I Want Other Families To Know What Ours Didn't
- False Self Syndrome: The Dangers Of Living A Lie To Fit In
- Depression Isn't A Personality Flaw
- Asking For Help Is The Most Important Step
Follow Marcia Sirota on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marciasirota