Creating a Teen Space

Relating to teens has been given a lot of ink over the years–more advice than you can imagine or even want. If you have the inkling of a communication problem, it is not a waste of time to peruse some of this material. I, for one, belief in close contact and lots of coordinated activities. You don’t need a stringent schedule as long as what you plan is binding. Families bond over little things that take place in the basement from watching movies and TV to doing crafts. While parents are not always welcome, as kids want their own space, there are times when it just feels right for all parties concerned.

The basement is an ideal place for regular family congregation. You don’t have to constantly labor to keep it neat and it can house all kinds of games and supplies. Be sure to have some cabinets or closets built conveniently along a free wall. You want your teens to enjoy what they do and aspire to return often. Sports if a good way to engender compliance with a family night in. With a few comfy sofas and squishy chairs, you can convert your netherworld into a great hangout.

Most basements are a bit dank and some have been known to show mildew and mold. There might be a need for some basic do-it-yourself remodeling. You can secure cracks in windows and doors, repair walls and ceilings, and give the place a good overhaul visually with moisture-proof paint. The floor, if it is cold concrete, can be adorned with laminate or carpeting, both water resistant. The whole gang can get in on the job and enjoy the fruits of communal labor.

While you are at the hardware store getting supplies, let me give you a piece of advice. It is about something not at all obvious. A good dehumidifier can add comfort during summer to combat moisture while a humidifier, the companion appliance, can impart moisture to dry winter air. This duo should be on your list, preferably a dehumidifier with a 70-pint capacity that will suit an average basement space.

These units need not be a mystery. They are easy to select from available sizes, tote home, install, and enjoy. Air quality changes and you can keep ahead of it by alternating your appliances. They are large enough to handle the capacity of a good size basement, but small enough to be portable and use elsewhre. They can run for hours on one tank to get that downstairs space ready for recreational fun. Those who own them are adamant about their use. Once in place, you will never want to do without them.

Top-rated items can be purchased in specialty stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s or on line. Prices are comparable but research on the Internet may yield the best deal. Your part of the country may experience more humidity than dryness, and you can narrow down your choices. If you need both, the outlay will be well spent.

Teaching Responsibility

Today I wanted to talk about setting our kids up for success. While you may enjoy doing things for your children and feel that this is an expression of love for them, you are doing them a disservice if you do not allow them to spread their wings and allow them to take more responsibility for their things and their lives. You had to potty-train them and teach them to tie their shoes, so please don’t stop when it comes to things like financial literacy or simple meal preparations. Teaching children skills like these will help them feel more independent and make living on their own less stressful, so they can get a great head start on their adult lives.

The closer my teenagers get to college, the more life-skills we are passing on to them. My husband and I each spend one weekend afternoon a month with our kids as “one on two” time. We are sure to put aside all distractions and pencil it into our busy schedules to do something with them. This way, they can see that we value time with them and that they matter. Sometimes it’s something they enjoy doing, like going on a hike. Sometimes they aren’t big fans of what we are going to do, especially when it is boring stuff like balancing a checkbook, doing laundry, or when Dad is imparting do-it-yourself wisdom. No matter what we are doing, we are imparting basic life skills they will need when they go away to college or beyond, we feel that this is important stuff that we are passing on; we want our kids to know how to handle things like changing the oil in a car before they even drive one.

We understand that there are some lessons that the kids will be more interested in learning. For example, when we went on the hike they enjoyed so much, I taught them how to follow a map and use a compass. We packed a first aid kit to carry along, and they were able to ask questions about any of the items in the kit and how to use them. I stressed the importance of letting someone know where we were going to be and why, and to carry ID with them, just in case they got lost or if there was another emergency. We also ran into a Park Ranger, who talked to the kids about paying attention to warning signs and the weather. She told them about various rescues that she has been a part of because people failed to heed warnings, and the toll it takes on her and the rest of the Park Services staff.

Today they are having one of those skill-building days. They’re learning how to add air to their bicycle tires as well as the tires on my SUV using the air compressor we have out in the garage. They are going to learn how to find out what the recommended air pressure is for the tires they’re using, how operate the compressor safely, how to use a pressure gauge, and how to inflate the tires properly using an air compressor. Also, how to clean everything up when they are done. They are also going to learn how to use a patch kit to repair a flat. I wish my parents had done this for me because the only thing I knew was how to call roadside assistance, and that was before everyone carried a cell phone everywhere! In a couple of weeks, one of the tires on my car is going to “mysteriously” go flat and I’ll ask whichever one of the kids are home to help me fix it.

At the end of the day, they will have spent quality time with their father, they will have been given some basic skills that might come in handy one day. These afternoons don’t have to be anything elaborate, and you may find that working them into your schedule is a very rewarding experience for you and your child.

Getting Teenagers To Open Up to You

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As the mother of two teenagers, no one has to tell me that it’s really hard to get teenagers to open up to you. There are plenty of reasons for that and plenty of solutions to that. Some parents will just accept it as a fact of life. You’ll be with your mom friends all the time and they’ll talk about how it’s great when the kids get older and they don’t want to have anything to do with you. They’ll say it in a self-deprecating tone that indicates that they want sympathy and reassurance, since they’re trying to cope with the fact that they feel disconnected from their children, and they’re worried about what’s happening with them.

I promise that there are ways of getting your teenagers to actually connect with you. One of the most important things that you can do for your teenager under those circumstances is to make him or her feel safe. Teenagers are trying to establish their own identities away from their parents. One of the defining characteristics of adolescence is the fact that it’s about trying to find one’s place in the world. Teenagers sometimes regard their parents as a threat in that regard. Parents do often try to mold their children into a particular image, and teens sometimes rebel about the image that their parents tried to set for them earlier in their lives.

As parents, we’re judgmental. We have a certain idea of how we want our teens to be, and we want to encourage them to develop in a particular direction. We also want to protect them from all the hardships that are out there, and we want them to avoid making some of the same mistakes that we made when we were that age. The thing is, some of those mistakes are normal and necessary for developing minds.

Teenagers are capable of making decisions that will haunt them throughout the rest of their lives. However, many of the poor decisions that they make at this stage of their lives really aren’t going to affect them forever. It is important for parents to learn the difference. Knowing the distinction between the normal mistakes that teenagers make and the tragic mistakes that some teenagers will make is crucial if parents are going to learn to trust their teens.

However, even if your teen is going down a very difficult road, it is important for them to know that they can trust you. You need to be able to show them that you are going to give a response that is proportionate to what actually happened. Your teen needs to feel that he or she is in a safe place during your dialogues with one another. Establishing that sort of bond is going to take time, but once you have that bond, it really will make all the difference in terms of your relationship with one another.

Do You Understand Your Teen?

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As a counselor, I have run into plenty of situations in which teenagers had perfectly good reasons not to open up to their parents. The cliche of the teenager refusing to talk to his or her perfectly reasonable parent simply doesn’t always apply. Some parents are emotionally or physically abusive. Other parents may not know that they are being emotionally abusive because their behavior is socially sanctioned, but they are still creating a threatening environment for their teens, which is why their teens understandably won’t open up to them.

Parents who are unknowingly hurting their kids may not be doing it out of anything other than ignorance. Parents who have done abusive things can certainly get better, and they can sometimes repair their relationships with their kids. However, they need to understand that what they were doing was wrong, and they need to be self-aware enough in order to change it in the first place. Even something as simple as trivializing your teen’s problems on a regular basis can create a threatening environment.

If you are a parent who really does believe that teen problems are trivial and the feelings that they have are trivial, then you need a certain degree of self-reflection or your relationship with your teens is always going to be fraught with difficulty. You need to remember the way these feelings felt when you were their age, if that’s possible for you. You should also try to put your own problems in perspective. Adults can have very difficult problems, but there are certainly people elsewhere in the world who have it worse, and listening to them trivializing your problems isn’t going to cause you to open up to them.

The problem may be on your teen’s end. The problem may also be on your end. Understanding the difference is crucial, since you really might need to evaluate your own behavior in a more honest way. Parents who are able to be self-critical in addition to critical of their children will be that much more likely to successfully relate to them.

The Power of Active Listening

The Power of Active Listening

Few techniques have been more effective to me as a mother and a counselor than active listening. It is a deceptively simply technique that has nonetheless managed to work miracles. Essentially, it’s a communication technique that signals to the listener just how much you’re actually hearing what he or she is saying. You subtly parrot back what they’re saying to you as a way of getting them to elaborate when you do active listening.

For one thing, when you do active listening, you’re doing something other than advertising your opinion to your teens. They’re afraid of their parents preaching at them, since they’re so preoccupied with forming their own identities. Teenagers are tired of living under the authority of their parents, since they’ve at least matured to the point where it is easier for them to make their own choices. Teenagers are in an awkward state where their bodies and minds are more mature than those of children, but still not mature enough for adult decisions and adult lifestyles.

Navigating the difficulties of the teen years is often just as difficult from the outside as it is from the inside. Parents were all teenagers once. We remember what it was like. Actually being able to communicate our experiences to teens and helping them through the difficult parts of their lives can make a huge difference, but they need to be able to trust us first and they need to know that we’re actually going to take their feelings seriously.

As adults, we do often have a difficult time taking the dilemmas and problems of teenagers seriously. We went through all of these same problems ourselves and we survived them. They can often seem trivial compared to what we have to cope with today. We have the perspective to be able to look back and decide which parts of our adolescence were really important and which ones weren’t. Teenagers are still in the throes of those dilemmas, and they just aren’t able to do so.

However, it is still your job as the parent to be able to manage the disconnect that the two of you have in terms of your experiences. One of the worst things you can say to your teen in these sorts of situations is to ‘just get over it.’ Teenagers are already burdened by cultural stereotypes that label them as needlessly angst-ridden. They’re used to hearing the unoriginal musings of the adults around them on how their problems aren’t important and they should just get over everything in spite of the fact that they lack the perspective in order to do so.

When you do active listening, you are signalling to your teens that their problems do matter. You are taking their feelings seriously. You are there for them, and you aren’t just paying lip service to the idea that they can always talk to you. Active listening allows parents to communicate many different things to their teens all at the same time, which is why counselors use it and which is why concerned parents can benefit from it just as readily.

The Hormonal Teenager Myth

People talking about the raging hormones of teens is so prevalent that few people even decide to look around and decide whether or not this idea is even true. It is true that teens experience elevated hormonal levels for the sake of the growth process. However, the extent to which this translates into their behavior is significantly more controversial.

There are few records of the concept of a hormonal teenager from history, since it seems to be a very recent idea. The entire concept of adolescence itself only dates back to the very early twentieth century. Humanity hasn’t really been going through this life stage very long, and we are still ironing out the bugs and trying to understand it.

Teenagers often make poor decisions because their brains have not finished developing, especially the parts of their brains that control decisions. It is true that this aspect of their development is biological, and there is little that parents can do about it other than trying to educate our teens. However, dismissing a good portion of their behavior as ‘hormonal’ does them a disservice, especially because it is probably false.

Similar accusations have been made against women of all ages, and they were always wrong. In many cases, the women in question were simply dissatisfied with their lot in life and acting out. Your teen is frustrated with having to live under your authority, and is acting out in order to achieve some measure of control and independence.

Naturally, teenagers are not going to organize and start a new movement like women and other oppressed groups did. They are being managed, but ideally, they are not being controlled. However, many of them do not have the perspective to truly know the difference. This is ignorance, but it is ignorance related to a lack of experience, and not to hormones.

Teens are certainly not going to respond well to accusations of being hormonal. This idea probably has little biological merit, and parents should be sure to know when they are using it to completely dismiss the feelings of their kids. Feelings are always valid. The way they are expressed may not be, but that is a problem to address and not dismiss because it is supposedly related to hormones.

Teenagers and Moral Development

There’s been a lot of discussion on the intellectual development of teenagers. Plenty of people are concerned with whether or not certain activities promote intellectual development. They want to make sure that teenagers are not permanently stunting their brain growth by drinking or by doing other activities. However, the moral development of teenagers doesn’t tend to get anywhere near as much focus. The processes are related, but they are not synonymous, and creating people of character is extremely important for the functioning of any society.

We do live in a time when brains are all-important. Teenagers face more pressure than ever when it comes to getting into a good college and getting merit scholarships or financial aid. College costs just keep on rising, and many parents would not even be able to afford college if their teens were not good enough students. In the rush to get our kids ready for college, a lot of parents are forgetting how important life will be after college. College doesn’t last for very long. Teenagers are also learning all the worst lessons from the competitive rush to get into the best college possible.

Liberal parents are often shocked at the extent to which society is often based on cutthroat competition, and the fact that the capitalist system in general tends to outright encourage this sort of behavior. It should be noted that many capitalists learn this sort of behavior when they are still in their teen years. They learn that it’s more important to beat the system than it is to use it for the greater good. Our academic system rewards cheaters who are able to get away with it largely because it doesn’t effectively test teens on the actual knowledge that they have accumulated. The credentials are all that matters, and those are relatively easy to fake or falsify.

Finding a way to stop your teen from succumbing to this sort of behavior can seem like a very daunting task, and it is. Just repeating platitudes about how cheating is wrong isn’t going to help them, and it certainly isn’t going to do anything other than teach them that cheating is wrong. Moral development in general is important. However, encouraging moral development is no easy task, so it is understandable that many parents never quite work it into their list of tasks with their teens.

I’ve found that volunteer work honestly can help. Teens need to be able to really get a sense of the people in society who are less fortunate than them. They need to have their eyes opened in more ways than one. Teenagers live extremely sheltered existences, and with good reason. We want to protect them, giving them a solid basis from which they can explore the world. However, teenagers still need to get their comfortable worldview shaken up somewhat if they are going to learn anything in the way of moral development.

Teenagers who do something dramatic, like volunteer in developing countries, will often more or less come back as changed individuals. However, parents don’t have to do anything that dramatic in order to make sure that their teens are getting exposed to the way the world really is. Parents who spend a lot of time talking to their teens about global concerns will stand a better chance of making them realize the way the world really is outside of their windows. Discussing current events can also be something of a family bonding exercise.

It should also be noted that even volunteering at a homeless shelter or a nursing home can make all the difference for sheltered teens. They can see what it’s like for people who are truly lacking in privilege. They will also be that much more resistant to the conservative idea that people who lack privilege somehow brought it on themselves. Life is not a classroom, and teens need to learn that sooner rather than later.