Parenting is a hands-on and individual experience. No matter how many books you read on the subject, how many mothers (including your own) you consult, your child is unique, and therefore, your parenting must be specific to your child. It must be carefully pondered and sensitively executed. So, calling it an art shouldn’t be a stretch. Although this art doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all framework, it evolves as the child grows, by the day, week, month and year. One can never exact the art of parenting, especially not for a teen, but one can learn and grow with the child.
I have just stepped into my bittersweet 16th year of parenting. Bittersweet, because there were times, especially in the last three years, when I felt everything I did as a parent was wrong, and at others, it was the most amazing feeling to be a mother. As I spoke to other parents of teens, it got a little more reassuring to learn that the challenge of conversing with a teen is universal.
Let’s take a few examples from a classic everyday scenario. When your teen returns from school and you ask, “So, how was school today?” “OK” is all you get before she walks off to her room and shuts the door, leaving you staring at the door. And here, you were hoping to have a mother-daughter after-school chat. That’s perhaps the first change you notice after seven years of daily dose of non-stop chatter about classmates and teachers.
This nonchalance gradually permeates into all conversations. If you make the mistake of asking “Hey, what’s with all the attitude?” Be sure to hear “What attitude? I am just tired and not in a mood to talk. What’s your problem?” The next moment she is sitting by herself giggling into her phone. If that annoys you, take a few deep breaths, count till 10 and walk away from the scene.
By now it is clear, this art of conversing with a teen requires incredible patience and an open mind that is ready to observe, learn, adapt and improvise on the spur of the moment. Soulveda delves deeper into this ‘art’ to understand how to have a meaningful conversation with a teenager.
All ears, all the time
Says Sindhuja S, 42, working mother of 17-year-old Aniruth V, “The most important thing to do is to listen. No matter how hard it is, refrain from advising, and telling them.” That’s where we as parents often fall short. Be it due to lack of patience or just the way we are hardwired. As parents, we feel the need to exercise our right to ‘tell’ or “talk to” them; and, thanks to their hormones, the teens react with an, “I know, you don’t have to tell me” or “You don’t understand. You never understand.”
Sindhuja, who did a course in counselling while working as a medical transcriptionist, says, “When they are having an outburst, lend them your ears and pay attention to every word they say. Don’t give your opinions or offer advice right then. Give them time to recover. Then have a friendly conversation.” Listening attentively helps you to connect with your teen better.
Make space the final frontier
As a parent, we feel the need to be an intrinsic part of our child’s life to the extent that we run the risk of becoming a stalker. Often when I have tried to look over my 16-year-old daughter’s shoulder and peek into her phone to catch who she is chatting with, I have been stung by a stinker: “Why are you snooping? You do know it’s a breach of privacy, right?” Or if I ask too many questions about some “get-together plans”, she gets extremely irritated and questions, “Why do you need to know such granular details? Don’t you trust me?” While as a parent it is imperative to keep a tab on their online and offline worlds, I learned the hard way that getting too intrusive in their lives only makes a teen more rebellious. So, it’s essential to give them space and have a subtle understanding that they need to keep you informed, wherever they go, whatever they do, in their real and virtual lives. Then, you have to just trust them. Once there’s mutual trust, they won’t misuse the space.