I recently graduated with my master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health. During my practicum and internships, I had the privilege of working with teen clients. For several years prior, I was a volunteer mentor for at-risk teens and worked as a middle school educational assistant (EA).
I love working with youth. It’s one of my passions. Although I’m a recent graduate, my experience with teen clients is freshly embedded and the message that I received working with them was clear. This last year, I’ve learned so much about teens. And I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a teen. Here are three things I’ve learned from my teen clients.
They are watching you.
Your kiddo is watching you: the choices you make, the beliefs you have, your likes and dislikes. They know you. It can be tough to think about this when you reflect on all those times you didn’t think mattered. But they did. I’m guilty of throwing way too many f-bombs and talking about how I am not good enough. Kids and teens hear your conversations on the phone, and they know when something is wrong. Be mindful of how you influence your child.
I read an Instagram post a month ago about how this young boy told his mother he needed a blanket while watching fireworks. The mom (Mia McKitterick) asked if he was cold, and he replied, “No, I’m feeling a bit anxious.” He wanted the blanket to make him feel better. The mom goes on to say that her son saw her do it first. Wow. We already know that as parents, we hold so much influence over our kiddos. But then as life gets ahead of us, we forget. There is a big role we play when it comes to modeling. Modeling for our kids holds so much power. They see you.
They want to be heard, acknowledged, and validated.
A common theme I hear from my teens is: “my parent(s) aren’t paying attention to me.” Sure, you may be listening, but are you actively listening? This means really taking in what they have to say. It’s holding space for who is communicating with you and giving them the opportunity to share with you. It does not necessarily mean that your perspective needs to always be given.
A few ways to practice active listening:
- Put electronic devices down.
- Show you are listening with nonverbal cues such as eye contact (looking at and staying engaged with your teen).
- Reflect/reiterate back what they said.
- Be patient.
- Try to remember when you were a teen. Reverse the roles and put yourself in their shoes.
Although teens may give you attitude, they still want your attention.
I’ve heard, “My mom doesn’t spend time with me like she used to” or “My dad spends more time with my siblings than me.” It can be hard juggling it all especially when there are other kids begging for your attention. Try to divide the time equally. Take time to do an activity that they like and get to know their interests. It’s easier said than done, but they will thank you for it.
Yes, they want to be independent, but they still want to be your baby.
As you loosen the reigns and let your teen fly, they are excited to have that independence. But at the same time, they still want to know you are there and you have their back. They will make mistakes, but giving them reassurance from time to time can be helpful, especially when life gets hard, confusing, and uncertain.
What tips do you have for parenting and connecting with teens?
Originally posted October 2021.
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