A recent study published in the journal Emotion noted the impact of screen time (meaning the time on devices engaged in social media, texting, or playing games) on teen happiness. Just to let you know, getting rid of all social media, texting, and electronic game playing did NOT result in the greatest level of happiness! However, as engagement in social media, texting, and electronic game playing increased, so did teen levels of unhappiness. (See The Amount of Screen Time Linked to Unhappiness for more.) Wait. Don’t those two statements contradict one another? Not really. Let me explain.
Over one million teens in 8th, 10th, & 12th grades were surveyed about how they spent their time on their phones, tablets, and computers, how much time they engaged in face to face interactions, and their overall happiness. The results suggested that the more time over an hour that a teen spends in front of a screen engaged in social media, texting, and gaming, the less happy they were. Cutting out screen time altogether, however, seemed to coincide with less happiness as well. In moderation, teens who spent a little less than an hour a day on screen time and filled non-screen time with reading, sports, and face-to-face interactions were happiest.
The takeaway message seems pretty obvious. Allow your teen to enjoy some time on social media, texting their friends, and even gaming. But limit that time. Don’t let them get “sucked in” to the screen time activities. Instead, provide opportunities for your teens to engage in face-to-face interactions like sports, face-to-face games, and simple conversations. Encourage your teen to read. Help them find topics and books that will hold their attention and interest. And, of equal importance, model healthy use of electronic devices in your own life. Do this and you might just be surprised at how happiness increases as non-screen time activities increases as well.
Researchers from Penn State University followed 687 families for three years. Each family consisted of a mother, a father, and an adolescent child. The three year period spanned the adolescent’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years…the dreaded middle school years. (Read more here.) The study examined whether family relationships impact friendship during middle school. Of course, the short answer is “yes,” “you betcha,” “without a doubt.” But, the study did expose a couple of very interesting nuances to that “yes.”
First, a mother’s rejection, a father’s rejection, and the overall family climate not only predicted changes in the quality of the adolescent’s friendships but their sense of loneliness as well.
Second, feeling rejected by one’s father in 6th grade predicted social anxiety in 7th grade and social anxiety in 7th grade predicted loneliness in 8th grade. This was significant for rejection by one’s father but not so much in regards to one’s mother. It seems (in agreement with other research) that rejection by one’s father impacts how confidently a person moves into the world outside the home.
So, if you want your children to have the ability to develop and maintain high quality, positive friendships in middle school, nurture and strengthen your relationship with them. Their ability to form positive relationships outside the home begins at home…with you. Dads, this seems to be especially true for your relationship with your teen. Here are a few key ways to strengthen your relationship with your children.
- Spend time together…lots of time together. Enjoy uninterrupted time with your children. Put aside the distractions (cell phones, papers, TV) and get to know your children. Learn what they like and who they like. Talk about classes, interests, strengths, and fears. Learn about their struggles in the community and which peers present them with the biggest challenges and why. Enjoy fun stuff and endure boring stuff…together. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn. And, you’ll be amazed at how cool your children really are.
- Listen more than you lecture. The more you lecture, the less they’ll talk. The less they talk the less you will know them. On the other hand, the more you listen, the more they’ll talk…and the more you’ll get to know them. Listen intently. Listen patiently. When they say something that arouses your urge to lecture, Don’t Do It! Instead, show empathy for their feelings around the topic. And, get curious about their thinking about the topic. Ask them questions out of a genuine curiosity to know them better. As you do, they will continue to talk…and you will get to know them better. They will continue to talk…think…and learn. They’ll learn about the topic and you’ll learn more about them as they review their approach to the topic out loud. All you have to do is listen and….
- Problem-solving together. Our children will approach us with concerns and struggles when they know we will listen and empathize. As they recognize our efforts to understand their concern and their point of view, they will open up to discuss and problem solve with us. We will have created an environment of mutual respect that allows for cooperative problem solving. In the process, we will also deepen our relationship with our teen.
Practice these three actions and you can help prevent pervasive loneliness in your middle schooler. You will also increase your middle schooler’s confidence in making friends and the quality of their friendships.
Serve up a big bowl of happiness for your spouse and children today. Here are the ingredients.
- Start with a big scoop of acceptance. Every member of the family needs to feel acceptance. They need to know they are accepted “no matter what.” They need to know that acceptance is not conditioned on behavior, performance, or beliefs. It is unconditional. This allows them to explore, grow, and mature. Lack of acceptance, on the other hand, increases stress hormones, decreases coping skills, and even hinders immune functioning. It can contribute to physical or emotional illness. Lack of acceptance hinders change. Acceptance will open the doors for change. Acceptance promotes healthy relationships and healthy emotional development. So make this first scoop of acceptance extra big. Give a double dose to everyone in the family.
- Add a delicious topping of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean “letting anything go.” No, tolerance simply means to accept our differences, to even enjoy each person’s unique contribution to the family and world. Tolerance accepts each person’s uniqueness by encouraging each one to “come into his/her own.” Tolerance knows that our differences add beauty to our relationship and strength to our opportunities. In appreciating each family member’s unique gifts, we can become the “Michelangelo” to each one’s dreams. Be gracious with the topping of tolerance…really gracious…pour it on.
- Then sprinkle on some hope. Hope looks to the future. Hope believes fun and intimate joys wait for us “just around the river bend.” Hope anticipates adventure and excitement, laughter and joy, even though there will be times of sorrow and stresses as well. So put on lots of sprinkles. Pour on the sprinkles through your actions and your words.
- After you’ve done all this get out a real bowl and fill it with ice cream (I prefer chocolate chip cookie dough). I mean fill it up. Then pour on some caramel, chocolate, and even a little marshmallow and whip cream. Throw on some sprinkles…the colorful ones, they’re the best. Get a spoon for everyone and enjoy the treat. Tell a few family stories while you eat. Dream about your next outing. Laugh. Have a good time. Serve up the happiness!
There you have it, a big bowl of happiness. Enjoy!
Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work. –Robert Brault
It has happened to me several times now. I meet a child in fifth, sixth, or seventh grade who is exhausted, depressed, and ready for a rest. After a few questions I discover they do not go to sleep until 2, 3, or even 4 o’clock in the morning! Why? Because they are “on their phone texting friends and playing games.” These experiences, combined with an exert (A Smartphone Will Change Your Child in Ways You Might Not Expect or Want) from Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book Be the Parent: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat, increased my understanding of the smartphone as a burden for our children. Yes, giving a preteen or teen a smartphone places a burden on them. We, as parents, need to know that burden and establish parameters to teach them how to manage that burden. How is a smartphone a burden?
- When children receive a smartphone they move into a culture of “24/7 popularity competition” in the words of Anderson Cooper in the documentary Being Thirteen. They begin to judge their popularity on likes and shares. They see posts in which their friends are having fun without them, maybe even during an activity to which they were not even invited. Selfies and group selfies taken during “fun activities” engaged in “without me” raise thoughts of “not being popular enough.” “Maybe they don’t even like me” and “why are they hanging out with them after what they did to me” are thoughts that cross many a preteen’s mind as they see pictures of their peers having fun without them. Loneliness increases. Feelings of isolation can even flood over many a teen in this situation.
- At the same time, it becomes more difficult to avoid the drama of the preteen and teen life. “Who said what about whom,” “who does what,” and “who does what with whom” flood the digital airways, popping up on phones 24/7. It’s hard for your teen to go into their room and “get away from it all” because “it all” follows them wherever they take their phones.
- This also means news is constantly at their fingertips. News of school shootings, Korean bomb threats, police brutality, catastrophic tsunamis in distant lands, and threats of political upheaval in countries they may have never heard of pop up on their phone at all hours of the day. And, little to no positive headlines pop up on the news. Instead, a steady stream of random “breaking news” pops up with no coherent story behind them. This constant stream of disconnected catastrophes can overwhelm our children with information, increasing their level of anxiety.
- This constant flow of information includes texts, snapchats, and instagram pics from friends as well. Our children feel obligated and pressured to respond to texts and other digital “pokes” that pop up on their phone. They fear their friends will accuse them of “ignoring” them if they do not answer immediately. And, they feel ignored if their friends do not respond to them immediately. Imagine the pressure of needed to respond to others every minute of every day no matter your current activity.
These are only four ways in which a smartphone becomes a burden that can increase our children’s sense of exhaustion, pressure, anxiety, and depression. It also raises concern for their safety from predators and bullies or the pressure to look “perfect” in the selfie. So, what’s a parent to do? Parents can help their children learn to manage this burden by establishing limits for cell phone usage. Here are a few ideas to help.
- Learn the phone settings. Determine which “pop ups” and notifications your child needs and which just cause more stress. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
- Do not let your child charge their phone in the bedroom. Instead, plug it in overnight to charge in the kitchen or in your bedroom. It is easier to not respond to a peer’s text because “my mom has the phone after 9” than ignoring it when it is charging next to “my bed.”
- During dinner and family meals enjoy one another’s company. No phones allowed. No texting. No checking email. No checking Facebook or Instagram. No reading “pop ups” and notifications. Put the phone someplace else and enjoy one another’s company.
- Enjoy one another during family outings too. No responding to texts. No checking Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media app. Leave the phones in a purse, backpack, or pocket and enjoy the company of the people you are with.
- Parents maintain access to the phones their children use. Our children may manage the phone very well but find themselves bullied through the phone or sent inappropriate pics through the phone. So, parents need to have full access. That means parents know the passwords for their children’s phones. And, parents check their children’s phones from time to time. A good time to check the phone is when it is charging in the kitchen overnight. Any inappropriate materials will need to be discussed with the child who uses the phone.
What other limits might help ease the burden of a Smartphone?
I recently read a couple of articles about the outstanding work Iceland has done to reduce teen drug abuse. They have produced amazing results in response to an entrenched problem seen throughout the western world. Specifically, Iceland has implemented holistic programs contributing to a dramatic reduction in alcohol abuse, marijuana usage, and cigarette smoking. As a result, “Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens!” The statistics reveal the “clean-living teens.” The percentage of 15- and 16-year olds who have been drunk in the last month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to only 5% in 2016. During the same time period, marijuana use among 15- and 16-year-olds was down from 17% to 7% and cigarette smoking among the same age group fell from 23% to 3% (Read How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs). Although Iceland’s program incorporated a comprehensive family and community-based, government-supported model, the principle underlying the whole “shebang” includes principles simple enough to implement in your family. The principle: increase factors that protect your child while decreasing factors that put your child at risk. There are many risk factors in our communities today. Risk factors include things that place your child at risk—things like a lack of a secure relationships at home, harsh parenting, high parental conflict, negative peer pressure, and many more. There are also many protective factors. But, what I find amazing, the beautiful part of protective/risk factors, is that a few key protective factors help overcome many risk factors. Let me share four key protective factors that can “cover a multitude of risks.”
- A secure parent-child relationship in which the parent is warm, responsive, and supportive. This is fairly self-explanatory. We protect our children from involvement in risky behaviors like drug use when we develop a warm, supportive relationship. How can we develop a warm, supportive relationship with our children? Keep the lines of communication open. Enjoy time together. Laugh together. Make family meal times a regular occurrence (daily if possible but at least 3-5 times a week). Develop a bedtime routine that includes time to talk. Ask about their friends, school, and activities. Go to watch them in their activities. Remain available to talk about hurts, fears, and successes. Celebrate milestones. All these things will help you develop a warm, supportive relationship with your children.
- Participation in positive community activities. Children need activities. We do not need to force them into activities they do not enjoy; but we can help them find the activities they will enjoy. Based on your warm, supportive relationship (see previous bullet) you will have some idea about what your children enjoy. If not, you will have a relationship that allows you to discuss this with your children and explore. Encourage your children to get involved in some positive supervised activity. This may be sports, music, theatre, recreation, art, dance, church, the list goes on. Help your children find the activity they will enjoy.
- The support of at least one supportive adult outside the home. Sometimes our children are hesitant to approach us with a problem. In those instances another like-minded adult can prove extremely beneficial. As you involve your children in positive community activities, you can help them find that supportive person and allow their relationship with that person to blossom. This supportive person might be a teacher, a coach, an uncle or grandparent, a minister, or even an older sibling. Encourage your children to form relationships with adults you know and trust in the community.
- A stable relationship between parents. Children flourish when their parents get along. If you want to protect your children, nurture your relationship with their other parent. Learn to work together. Do not bad mouth the other parent. Cooperate with one another. Work together in regards to limits and discipline as well as celebrations. Resolve arguments and let your children witness your affection for one another (within reason of course). This will increase your children’s security and decrease the chances they will get involved in “risky behaviors.”
When you provide your children with these four protective factors you have reduced the possibility of their involvement in negative behaviors. And, you will enjoy an amazing relationship with your children.
How a parent thinks will influence how they parent. Here are six statements I hear from parents that interfere with effective parenting.
- “I know my kids better than they know themselves.” Good parents do know their children well. They learn when their children need to rest. They can tell when their children are hungry or need to go to the bathroom. They learn the nuances of their children’s moods. However, assuming we know more about our children than they know about themselves sets us up for conflict and disaster. After all, children change. They don’t like peanut butter today but love it tomorrow. Sue was her best friend yesterday but her antagonist today. And, who can really know another person’s emotion, intent, or motivation? With that in mind, we need to check our assumptions and not let them prejudice our responses. Instead, ask your children about their feelings, their motivations, and their intent. Watch and observe them in action. Let them tell you about themselves through their words and actions as you learn about them every day. You might be surprised what you learn.
- “I have to worry. It’s a parent’s job.” It is true. Parents worry and, chances are, parents will continue to worry. However, a parent’s worry doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t keep children safe. A parent’s worry does not protect children. In fact, if worry takes over it can actually harm children by preventing them from becoming involved in healthy activities that might worry their parents. A better job description for parent involves concern, not worry. A parent’s concern allows them to teach their children how to remain safe. Concern allows the opportunity for children to learn from the consequences of their own mistakes when the stakes are low. Concern allows for discussion about various activities and discussion allows for teaching. Let’s change a parent’s job description from “worry” to “concern.” Parent and child will benefit!
- “My kids are my life.” Children are an important part of a parent’s life. But, if you’re a parent who say’s “my kids are my life,” your teen will likely offer the best advice when they say, “Get a life!” (More parenting advice from teens in Parenting Advice to Parents of Teens…From Teens)When children become the sole purpose of our lives, our lives suffer. Marriages suffer. Health suffers. We don’t take care of ourselves. Our children need us to model self-care so they learn the importance of taking care of ourselves. If they see us constantly caring for them and running ourselves ragged to meet their needs they might incorporate an unhealthy message about adulthood. “It’s no fun as an adult. Who wants to become an adult when all they do is what everyone else wants? I’ll never grow up.” Give children a sweet spot in your life and heart, but don’t make them the sole purpose of your every waking hour. Get a hobby. Make some friends. Enjoy some adult activities. Get a life.
- “I love my kids too much.” I hear this from parents who are afraid to discipline. They love their children “too much” and fear their children will learn to hate them for discipline received. Truth be told, our children want structure. They actually long for discipline. They may not admit it in the moment (or even realize it in their younger years) but they will appreciate it as they mature. Discipline provides a measure of predictability, safety, and security our children need to thrive. It lets our children know we love them enough to teach them and keep them safe. Discipline establishes a baseline of limits and values our children can internalize as they mature. These limits and boundaries will promote success as they engage the world independently. Limits, boundaries, and values also teach our children that “you can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.” It allows them to learn how to manage the frustrations that accompany not getting what you want. So, do your children a favor. Love them enough to discipline.
- “We need more discipline in this house.” As George Banks so aptly said in Mary Poppins, “Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools. Without them-disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!” Discipline and structure are an important part of a healthy home, but not the foundation or the only part. Discipline alone leads to fear. Fear of not doing good enough. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. People who live in a home in which discipline forms the foundation tend to struggle with self-confidence. And, when they taste the freedom of less discipline, they rebel. Children who grow up in a home with tight structure, discipline, and schedule do not learn how to manage their time. When they leave home, they still do not know how to manage time. As you can see, unlike George Banks’ beliefs, it is too much discipline that leads to catastrophe, anarchy, a ghastly mess! Instead, balance discipline with connection, structure with relationship, limits with love.
- “Kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys.” This is true…to a point. I hear these statements used too often as an excuse for low expectations. Yes, “kids will be kids” but parents must teach them responsibility. Yes, “boys will be boys” but they need to learn respect and self-control. Rather than simply say “kids will be kids,” say “kids will be kids and kids can learn.” In fact, kids love to learn. Take the time to teach them responsibility, respect, honor, and self-control.
Strong families make multiple, daily deposits into the Family Bank of Honor (Read Family Bank of Honor for more ideas on making investments in the Family Bank of Honor). We not only expect children to make deposits into the overall Family Bank of Honor, but we need to make deposits into their honor accounts as well. But, certain phrases cheapen our deposits. These phrases take the value away from an attempted deposit and make it empty. Instead of using phrases that cheapen our deposits, the whole family will benefit when we use phrases that enrich our deposits. Let me give you a few examples.
- “No problem” tends to cheapen the deposit. It raises an implicit question, a subtle doubt so to speak. Did we do “it” simply because it was “no problem”? Would we have valued our child enough to do it if it was difficult or problematic? A better phrase, one that will enrich the deposit might be “I am glad to do it for you,” “I enjoyed doing it for you,” or even the infamous, “My pleasure.” These statements enrich the deposit by noting you did it because you valued the person and enjoy doing things with and for them.
- “That’s a good boy/girl” is another phrase that cheapens a deposit. Saying “good boy/girl” implies that your child is good only because of whatever they did or are doing that prompted the statement. It suggests their “goodness” is based on performance, not inherent worth. Rather than applying the label of “good” to your child, make note of their effort. Or note one aspect of their work that you admire. For instance, “You worked hard on that project.” “I like the colors you chose.” Noting effort enriches the deposit and encourages a “growth mindset” and persistence (Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success), both important for success.
- “Stop crying. It’s OK.” This phrase is often said in an attempt to comfort our children. But it cheapens the deposit into their honor bank by disregarding and minimizing their emotions. You can accomplish the same goal (providing comfort and nurturance) while enriching the deposit by saying things like “That really hurts” or “Can I do something to help you feel better.” Sometimes you will not even need to say anything to make an enriching deposit. Simply give your child a comforting hug. You can further enrich a “hug deposit” by saying “I love you” while you hug them.
- “You’re so lazy/smart (you pick the label).” Anytime we apply a global label to our child, whether a positive or a negative label, we have, at best, cheapened the deposit into their honor account. Avoid negative labels because they actually make withdrawals from your child’s honor accounts. Positive labels lead to a “fixed mindset” (Read Build Your Child’s Success Mindset for more) that will hinder growth and success. Instead, enrich the deposit by acknowledging specific behaviors you like or behaviors you would like to see changed. For instance, “You studied hard and learned a lot for that test” or “Your practice really paid off.” On the negative side, “You chose to watch TV all day, so now your project is going to be late.” Addressing specific behaviors and their consequences enriches deposits into the Bank of Honor.
- “Wait until your father/mother gets home.” On first glance, this statement may not appear to influence the bank of honor. However, it cheapens deposits into your child’s bank of honor by giving your power away to the other parent. Without power all your deposits become weaker, less valuable. Only powerful people can make priceless deposits. Rather than “wait ’til your father gets home” to address a behavior, address it in the moment. You can still address it when your partner arrives home, but address it in the moment as well. By doing so you enrich all your deposits into your child’s bank of honor.
I think you get the idea. Some statements cheapen deposits into the bank of honor. Others will enrich the deposit. Fill your children’s banks of honor with enriching statements that pay rich dividends of joy and maturity.
The UK has engaged in a longitudinal study called Understanding Society. The study started gathering data on 40,000 households in 2009. They also incorporated data from the British Household Panel Survey which began in 1991. That’s 25 years of data about families, relationship, health, and so much more! (Learn more about it at Understanding Society). Why do I tell you about this study? Because this study, with the largest household panel from which to gather data over an extended period of time, has revealed three things parents can do to raise happier children! It’s true. Happy adults were raised by parents who did three things…three things that you can do today to help your children become happy adults. Let me share them with you now.
- First and foremost, work to build a healthy, happy marriage. In particular, children become happier adults when their mother is happy in her marital relationship. Their father’s happiness in the marital relationship, although important, did not have as significant an impact as their mother’s happiness did. I would add, however, that most men in healthy marriages are happiest when they know their spouse is happy. So, to have happier children, maintain a healthy, happy marriage. Men, find ways to bring joy and happiness to your wife. Speak her love language. Share the household chores. Pursue dreams together. The healthier and more secure your marriage, the happier your wife; the happier your wife, the happier your children.
- Pursue peace. The study actually reports happiest people are raised by parents who “avoid regular arguments.” Unfortunately, simply avoiding arguments tends to escalate the tension and increase the possibility of “a big blowout.” Instead of simply avoiding arguments, pursue peace. You can pursue peace by keeping promises, discussing decisions, allowing your spouse to influence you, resolving differences before they become arguments. In other words, you can pursue peace by honoring, serving, and celebrating your spouse. Pursuing peace decreases arguments and, when disagreements do occur (which they will), pursing peace leads to quicker, calmer, and more satisfying resolutions. That will contribute to happier children. (For more on pursuing peace, read The Secret to Family Peace)
- Eat at least three meals as a family each week. Eating meals as a family offers benefits in every area of family life—physical, mental (Have Fun, Eat, &..What?), emotional, and relational (Read A Special Ingredient for Happy Families for more). Your children will have fond memories of family meals. Fond memories, by the way, contribute to happiness. Family meals provide one cornerstone of happiness for every family. Enjoy them as often as you can.
A happy marriage, the pursuit of peace, and regular family meals all contribute to happier children who grow into happy adults. Sounds like the makings of a great New Year’s resolution. I think I’ll do it. Won’t you do the same?
Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the child’s work.” All work requires tools, not just any tools but the right tools. It does no good to cut a 2X4 with a hammer or a screwdriver to pound in a nail. No, we need the right tools for the right job. Play is a child’s job. In play, children work to build independent skills. They work to gain confidence and become better problem-solvers. Children gain an understanding of their world and how to navigate that world through play. “Play is the child’s work;” their maturity and wisdom depend on them doing this work with the right tools. What are the right tools for the work of play? Good question.
- Toys, of course…but not just any toys. The best toys to get a child’s job done right are those that encourage imagination, investigation, interaction, problem-solving, exploration, or invention. Magda Gerber notes that the best tools, the best toys, for a child’s play, “don’t do anything.” Children must actively engage in and interact with the toy and those enjoying the toy with him to have fun, which brings us to tool #2…
- Imagination. Sometimes having too many toys get in the way of getting the job done. Encourage your children to play imaginative games in which they pretend to be various characters and act out various roles. Give them play clothes and costumes, action figures and dolls, props and room to pretend. Like Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Encourage imagination. (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” for more.)
- Boredom. Boredom is a fundamental tool for learning to entertain the self. Boredom encourages your child to better use the tool of imagination. Boredom sparks creativity. It promotes resourcefulness. Boredom teaches children to entertain themselves. I’m not promoting constant boredom, but some boredom is a great tool in the toolbox of your child’s play. (Read 3 Responses to the Summer Mantra “I’m Bored” for more.)
- Friends. Children also need time to play with friends. They learn so many skills while engaged in play with friends, skills like communication, compromise, negotiation, and problem-solving to name a few. Set up play dates. When problems arise, step back and let them solve the problem on their own. Step in only when if they absolutely need your assistance. (Become Your Child’s Friendship Coach will offer more suggestions.)
- Outdoors. A recent study suggests outdoor play increases executive functioning skills and decreases inattentive-hyperactivity symptoms. Unstructured play in a natural/outdoor setting is also linked with improved mental health and better emotional regulation (Year round outdoor play can boost kids’ performance in school describes more). So, encourage your children to get off the video games and play outdoors as often as possible.
Make sure these 5 tools remain in your child’s toolbox for play so they can do the work of play in the most effective and productive manner possible. You’ll enjoy watching them build a mature, independent, and kind adult through the children’s work of play.
Have you ever found yourself constantly irritated with your teen? It just seems that everything they do is done to agitate us and push us away. We begin to wonder where our sweet little girl who cuddled up with us has gone or what happened to our little boy who loved to play games with us. Unfortunately, we seem to notice more and more negative behaviors that reinforce and increase our agitation and worry. Those small but negative behaviors begin to form a filter through which we see every action and hear every word. We begin to hear simple replies as replies filled with attitude. Gestures and faces take on significant and negative meaning. Disrespect grows in our minds while our teens attempt to assure us they do not intend disrespect. Even this seems disrespectful. Part of the problem we are experiencing was explained over 100 years ago by William James when he said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” In the mid-1900’s we learned that the brain only has a limited attentional capacity. We can only attend to so many things at a time (psychologists tell us we only have the capacity to attend to 7+2 chunks of information at a time). In other words, we cannot attend to every aspect of our teens’ behaviors. We are going to attend to and remember only those behaviors we “agree to attend to,” those behaviors we focus on. If we focus on all the things we don’t like, we will begin to see only cause for worry and concern when we see our teens. If, on the other hand, we focus on those things we can admire and be proud of, we will see those things that create further admiration and pride. Don’t worry, we’ll still see behaviors that need corrected. But, we will also increase the joy of having an intimate relationship with our teen. How can you keep the positive aspects of your teen in mind when their hormones and argumentative behaviors seem to overwhelm us? Here are a few ideas.
- Remember, your teen is growing up. Their argumentativeness is preparing them to take a firm stand for their values in the world. Their risk taking behaviors are preparing them to take the risk of leaving home for college or vocational training. Rather than see these as negative aspects of their behavior, see them as training opportunities. Help them learn to channel those behaviors in a positive direction. (Read The ESSENCE of Adolescence for more)
- Hug your teen as often as you can each day. Virginia Satir, a highly respected family therapist, once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Aim to promote growth for your teen by sharing as many hugs as they’ll accept each day.
- Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to stop three times every day for 10 seconds. During those 10 seconds write down three positive thoughts about each of your teens. At the end of the day, tell them at least one of the things you wrote down.
- Think of a gesture, picture, phrase, or object that reminds you of your teen. Each day briefly look at the picture or object, repeat the phrase, or make the gesture three to four times. You might do it when you wake up, eat lunch, return home, or before you go to bed. Each time you do, let positive, adoring memories of your teen come to mind.
- Pray for your teen daily. Prayer really does change things. Ironically, the change often begins with the changed attitude of the one praying.
As you put these five bullets into practice, you will find your image of your teen changes. You will notice more positive behaviors. You will find yourself in a more satisfying relationship with them. You will enjoy their company more and admire their accomplishments. You will have improved your relationship with your teen!