“Talk to my child, please.”
I hear the pain in their voice and see the desperation in their eyes.
The languages are different, but the problems and the emotions are the same.
I have 15 minutes allotted per patient. “I cannot fix this in 15 minutes,” I think to myself. Nevertheless, I plunge into the same conversation. This conversation is often repeated to physicians globally.
“My child does not speak to me.”
“My child says they hate me.”
“My child is rude to me most of the time.”
“I am worried about my child’s phone usage.”
“My child is failing his class.”
“My child is not the same person; they have changed drastically.”
“My child believes negative stories about themselves, and I cannot make them understand that they are not true.”
“I am worried that my child is being manipulated.”
The solution is straightforward. Research points to it, and within the field of child development, it is an established fact. The relationship of a child with their caregiver sets the tone of their future relationships and the trajectory of their entire life.
The good news is that it is never too late to amend this relationship. It can be repaired anytime, but consequences must be borne if a child was hurt or betrayed. The hurt does not disappear with an apology, but it will become better with time and consistent effort.
Here are my top 10 research-backed tips that can change your relationship with your teenager and ensure that they transition into adulthood with relative ease and safety.
Nobody will parent perfectly, but we can all choose to intentionally parent mindfully. Mindfulness is like a muscle; it grows with practice. We can get optimal results if we practice it most of the time. A child’s self-value and self-confidence is closely tied to their primary caregiver’s level of affection. Children do not only need words of affirmation, but like adults, children need words followed up with actions. Time spent playing, reading, or doing anything together with a parent is a superior form of affection.
Playing and reading to a child are the most effective ways to bond with your child. While you might think your child has grown out of bedtime stories, this cannot be further from the truth. They might have grown out of fables, but they love to know more about you. Sharing your life story gives them a sense of belonging within their family and validates their existence. Stories can heal wounds and soothe grievances.
Be mindful that your child is a complete person. This includes letting them make small decisions and take ownership of their space. If they have a room, letting them pick the bed, paint color, lamp, sheets, etc. will all lead to self-awareness. Giving them autonomy to make small decisions also fuels their desire to take responsibility and become self-reliant. Letting a teen deal with the consequences of their choices is also an important lesson that will make them resilient. Asking them their opinion on matters that are important to you is another way to respect their personhood. Do not discount their intelligence. Their unique approach to things or unbridled opinion is exactly what you might need.
It might take longer to finish a task, but plan accordingly. More than likely, someone had to make time for you when you were first learning tasks that you have mastered. Teach them life skills by doing things together.
Do you want your child or teen to spend more time playing outside away from their screens?
Your physical fitness should be your primary concern. Play a wide variety of sports with your child and see what interests both of you. Play the long game. Bond over a sport you both like and move together.
You need a strict bedtime more than your child. This topic would be less contentious if you were to follow tip five on this list. We all need sleep. It is your responsibility to be a good model for your child. If the whole family gets a sound night’s sleep, the whole atmosphere of the house will change.
Instead of “interrogating” your child about their day, try telling them about your day instead.
Respecting your teens’ personhood requires you to be willing to share and be vulnerable to your teen. I would argue that only age-appropriate struggles should be shared with children. We cannot expect our children not to be disappointed in us when they put us on a pedestal of perfection. Embrace your imperfections and give them the freedom to be imperfect too.
There are serious implications of not fulfilling a child’s need to attach and be loved by their primary caregiver. Children who don't form secure attachment to their primary caregiver may look at alternate ways to fulfill this need and may face lifelong trauma.
I have interviewed many teenagers over the years who are aware of the toxicity of their relationships. Yet they brush red flags under the rug because their intimate partner shares a word of affection here and there. The societal pressure to be an object of affection is linked to self-worth. This also plays a role in teens pursuing unhealthy intimate relationships so they can be revered and accepted among peers.
Stop tying your child’s worth to an external metric like a grade or other performance. Most stresses in relationships are borne out of societal norms and external standards. We chase the ever-changing metrics set by society to the detriment of the individual.
Many parents were brought up in a similar goal-chasing way and know exactly what the problem is. They are scared that their child will be left behind.
If a parent can set an internal metric and individualized trajectories of growth, the world would be a better place. If we exert ourselves to pursue excellence in things that we enjoy, we will eventually get better at those activities. We can even become the best at them and find contentment at every stage. If we give children the freedom to explore from a wide variety of education and experiences and let them be the master of their own destiny, then the atmosphere of the house will be fulfilling and peaceful.
Happiness is a fleeting emotion. We need to pursue contentment. True contentment only comes with striving for excellence. Striving for excellence only comes from self-drive and being self-reliant. Self-drive comes from repeatedly doing tasks that interest us and align with our talents. Self-reliance comes from doing a task imperfectly and making the effort to perfect it over time.
Ultimately, we share our lives with our teens by working alongside them. We accompany them for a short time on this journey, so make the most of it.
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