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Raising Teenagers? Stay C.A.L.M.

Parents of teenagers frequently ask what can be done to improve their relationship with their kids. This can be a challenging time, and a time when parents sometimes feel rejected, out of touch, and unclear about what to do. Here's a simple strategy that can help set you up for a smoother ride.

Stay C.A.L.M. Why "calm"? When teenagers are asked what parents can do to help keep communication open, teens invariably reply: "Don't freak out!" Evidently, teens' perceptions are, when they are sharing something important, or sensitive, parents too often go off the deep end. There is no surer way to shut down communication than to over-react. Parents may have difficulty not reacting to information that touches upon a nerve, so this can be tricky for parents. But it is possible to listen, and to focus on not lecturing, to keep your teen talking. It may be they are telling you this sensitive information because they will feel safer if you are informed, and because they value your relationship. It is also highly likely that they share your values. It is possible for parents to listen without freaking out. Try asking your teen directly what he/she wants you to do with this information ? is she asking for your advice? If not, DON'T give it. Be gentle ?be calm. And your teenager might just keep talking to you.

Let's examine with the other letters stand for:

C ? Connect Parents fret over lack of communication; but sometimes expectations are too high and the atmosphere becomes tense with unmet desires. Focus instead on 'connection.' This has a different connotation. To "connect" implies sharing an experience, sharing time and space, being on the same wave length. Almost everybody can find a way to connect with their teen ? it might take some planning and creativity, but it is possible. Share a tennis game, go to a movie, go out for ice cream, play a ping pong, bake some cookies together? find some pleasant activity that you can share together. Keep your focus on nothing more serious than enjoying that activity together. By "connecting" you will have created the environment for communication to take place. That's the important first step. Then it might be best to let nature takes its course. Oh ? and take this step of "connecting" frequently?don't make your shared activities be a rare event or it can work against you.

A ? Adjust You know how dramatically your teenager is changing?it is happening in every possible way: physically, emotionally, sexually, cognitively?this is a very dramatic time in a person's life. Are you changing in response? Think about it - if your child is changing in significant ways doesn't it stand to reason that a parent should change in response? You bet it does! Parents need to constantly adjust our parenting style so that it is appropriately matched to the developmental stage of our child. To fail to change means that we might fail to teach them important lessons, or we could negatively impact their developing independence and maturity. It also means we can undermine our relationship with them. Parents need to adjust continually. That's part of the job.

L ? Listen Truly, there is no easier way that allows you to improve communication and improve your relationship with your child than to spend more time listening. Parents usually think they are doing a much better job of this than their kids think they are. It's hard changing from being the resident ''authority" to having everything you say questioned. As parents intentionally adjust our view of our developing young adult, we need to intentionally spend more time listening to their thoughts and validating their feelings rather than sharing our opinions or fixing their problems. Nothing improves in our relationship until we listen to them.

M ? Monitor How are you doing as you implement these changes? To answer this question you must step back from the daily busy-ness and examine yourself. What are you doing differently? What kind of results are you getting? Be honest in your assessment. What developmental changes are you seeing in your teenager? Are you responding appropriately? Your biggest opportunity for initiating change in your relationship is through your own behavior and attitudes.

Your child is also monitoring you whether you like it or not. In a quiet 'connected' moment with your teen why don't you simply ask how you're doing. "You know, honey, I'm trying to tune into your needs differently, now that you're older. This is my first time parenting a teenager, so I imagine I might not have gotten in completely right. If there was one thing you would change about me, what would that be?" Those of us who have tried this approach are almost always surprised by the response. Try it out! And stay C.A.L.M.

? 2004 Sue Blaney

Sue Blaney is the author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride and Practical Tips for Parents of Young Teens; What You Can Do to Enhance Your Child's Middle School Years. As a communications professional and the parent of two teenagers, she speaks frequently to parents and schools about parenting issues, improving communications and creating parent discussion groups. Visit her website at http://www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com

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