Got Teens? Get Connected

By Melisa Holmes, M.D., and Trish Hutchison, M.D.

In today’s high speed, sexually charged, just-do-it culture, what parent wouldn’t want his or her teen to have the best safety net possible? Parents who stay connected with their kids have a crucial advantage, because this “connectedness” has been linked to positive outcomes in numerous adolescent health issues—from preventing early sexual activity and teen pregnancy, to increasing self esteem and coping skills, to reducing violence and drug use.
Melisa Holmes, M.D. and Trish Hutchison, M.D., authors of the book, GIRLOLOGY: Hang-Ups, Hook-Ups, and Holding Out (Health Communications, Inc., September 2007), specialize in adolescent medicine and travel the country to help girls and the adults who care about them start conversations that matter.

Here are 10 tips from which every parent—and teen—can benefit:

Get to know her world, and remember that it changes often. Learn something about her passions, get to know her friends, watch her favorite movies, get to know her friends’ parents, learn how to text message, listen to her music, and read her magazines.
Schedule protected time to spend in a shared activity that you both enjoy. If you can’t come up with a mutually enjoyed shared activity, do what she wants to do. And let yourself have fun doing it.
Help her think through big decisions, but don’t make them for her. Help her consider the possible outcomes of different decisions. Let her explain her rationale. When she makes a great decision, commend her and tell her why you think it was the right decision. When she makes mistakes (and she will), help her learn from them and make a plan for “next time.”
Show physical affection when it’s okay with your teen. She still needs it from you. Let your teen know your love is always there and not dependent on her actions.
Be available and approachable on her time frame, not just when it’s convenient for you. If you consistently go to bed before your teen, set your alarm clock to wake up and hang out late with her at least once a week. You’ll hear things she would have never brought up during the busier daytime.
Don’t embarrass her in public, no matter how funny you think it is. You’ll lose respect that will be difficult to regain. And never try to discipline your teen in front of her peers—just don’t.
Be a parent more than a friend. Your teen probably has plenty of friends, so what she really needs is a parent who is approachable yet sets boundaries, and a parent who encourages growth and independence, yet enforces consequences for unacceptable behavior.
Learn the art of active listening. When your teen talks to you (and that can be rare), stop what you are doing and listen with your whole body. React, repeat, and respond so she knows that you hear her. And, if you don’t understand her point, make sure you get it before the conversation ends. Also, as you focus on listening well, don’t forget to stay calm.
Don’t freak out over anything she tells you—at least not in front of her. If you freak out, it sends the message that you aren’t capable of handling the stresses in her life. That will make her less likely to come to you with her problems in the future. Remember that you are the adult, and you are the one who is supposed to help her through the challenges, no matter how difficult, scary, or weird they can be. If you need to freak out, do
it somewhere away from your teen.
Encourage safe risk-taking. Whether the risk is an extreme sport, publishing a literary piece, standing up for a cause, or performing for others, encourage your teen to take risks that matter to her. She may experience excitement, anxiety, failure, or triumph—but all of these experiences help her grow. As long as she knows you support her every bit of the way, they will all be great life lessons. BC

Melisa Holmes, M.D., is an ob-gyn and an advocate for adolescent health. Trish Hutchison, M.D., is a pediatrician with a passion for adolescents. With more than 25 years of clinical experience between them, both have been named among the Best Doctors in America. For more information and a healthy dose of uncensored advice for today’s teens, visit the website www.girlology.com.

© Baltimore’s Child inc. June 2008

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