Anyone who has ever parented teens will tell you it's not easy. Stuart Goldman, MD, Director of psychiatric education at Children's Hospital in Boston observes, "Adolescence is a time of rapid change for kids both physically and cognitively. It's the task of teenagers to fire their parents and then re-hire them years later, but as consultants, rather than managers."
Sometimes your teens will talk openly with you. Other times they will clam up and virtually ignore you. Drama is often the order of the day, and teens' feelings can be very intense. What's a parent to do?
Hold a family council
One idea that may help open communication with your teens is to ask them to participate in a family council. Family councils work best when families meet regularly at a pre-agreed time.
Sometimes it's appropriate for the whole family to participate in a discussion. At other times it might work better to have one parent meet with one teen.
Talk about family business
Time set aside for a family council can be dedicated to agreeing on family values, setting family goals, planning vacations, setting budgets or talking about challenges within the family.
It's important to recognize that family councils require collaboration. While we might all live in the same family, we all have our own ideas. Respect for the ideas of each family member is essential.
Get input from all family members
As with any effective working group, when teens are asked for their input, they are more likely to support a solution parents come up with to family issues. All children, regardless of their ages, need their parents to listen to them.
In order for family councils to be effective and a good time for essential face-to-face communication, don't allow distracting electronic devices. Spend quality time together.
Do not minimize what matters
While some of the issues teens raise during a family council might seem silly to you, remember you were that age once too.
Susan Bartell, PhD and adolescent psychologist in New York, says that when parents trivialize their teens' feelings, "Kids feel misunderstood, and eventually they will stop telling you anything." Take what matters to your kids seriously.
Russell Ballard, businessman and religious teacher, advises this about particularly serious family problems: "All the talking and sharing and loving in the world may not solve a medical problem or an emotional challenge that one or many family members may be facing. At such times, the family council becomes a place of unity, loyalty, and loving support as outside help is enlisted in the search for solutions."
Keep having your family council, but seek outside help as needed.
We end where we began - it's not easy to parent teens. Give weekly family councils a try and be patient in the beginning. Implementing anything new and unfamiliar can be challenging and will take time but has the potential to be well worth your while.