Communication is probably one of the most challenging human dynamics between parents and their children. To be an effective communicator, one must work at hearing, listening, understanding, and responding. We have learned painfully that parents and children do not effectively listen to each other and for that matter, people in general are not good listeners.
One of the great challenges of listening is being present and attentive to every conversation you are engaged in. Too often, when parents speak their children are inattentive and distracted by cell phones, text messaging, iPods and other technological gadgets. Unfortunately, communication is not a natural gift or skill. Most of us have to work at it. Effective communication takes time and effort.
We live in a very busy world. How often do you effectively communicate with your children? Do you have ongoing conversations of substance and importance? Or is the banister approach the way in which you communicate? For a growing number of parents, it is the safer way. You post a note expressing your concern and if your son or daughter is not in a coma going off to school, they hopefully will see it and read it!
Too many parents are opting to communicate in that way because they are tired of the ongoing confrontations they have around basic everyday life issues. It gets frustrating when you just want to have a simple conversation around what your teenage son might be doing for the weekend. It is Friday night; you know he s going out. He has his jacket on and is headed for the front door. You ask him, where are you going for the night? He says, Nowhere. You ask, who are you going with? He says, Nobody. What are you doing? He says, Nothing.
As a parent, you know that your son is going someplace, with someone, to do something on a Friday night. He is not going to stay home, watch TV with his parents or play Monopoly! Unfortunately, too many teenagers are becoming monosyllabic in their poor communication with their parents. Somehow, they have grown up believing that less is better-the less your parents know the better it is for you.
As a parent, what do you know about your teenage son or daughter s life? Do you know their friends, their social interests, what they enjoy doing with their free time? What is your position on teenage drinking and smoking pot? Are those social issues that you intentionally sidestep because you know most teenagers are engaged in that behavior and you hold the position that you are pretty powerless?
Many families do not spend much time together. Everyone is running in five different directions. Oftentimes, parents are running their children to various sporting events or extracurricular activities. Teenagers are often involved in a varsity sport and/or working after school to save money for a car and/or college.
In principle, all of this activity is a good thing, because it engages our children in positive, potentially life-giving activities. However, if all this busyness impairs family time and mutual communication with each other, then parents need to step back and ask some hard questions as to the effectiveness of these activities.
If families don t eat together almost every night, they are setting themselves up for disaster. The family meal, even if it only last 10 minutes, is the only time in any given day that everyone is together. It s a time where people can share what is going on in their life, and more importantly, a parent can get a real sense of where their child is at.
All in the name of good activity, we have compromised a value that is very basic and important. A growing number of parents are raising anonymous teenagers. They have become ships that pass in the night that don t even know each other.
Trying to communicate with your teenagers on a good day is a difficult task. As parents, we cannot turn our back on the challenge of effective communication. We must be willing to confront and address the difficult issues that our children face on an ongoing basis. To do that effectively, as parents we need to be clear on where we stand with issues. Taking a laissez-faire approach to parenting is potentially lethal and counterproductive. Taking no position and letting your children determine what is acceptable and not acceptable social behavior is equally troubling, and potentially dangerous.
Mr. and Mrs. T. have five children. Their four older children are in college and graduate school. JT, the youngest, is a senior in high school. He s a good student, a good athlete and an overall great kid. That is not only his parent s assessment but also the school s. However, he has one small social problem. He loves smoking pot and drinking. Both behaviors are illegal.
During the summer, he came home a couple of times from a party highly intoxicated. In his drunken stupor, he admitted to his parents that he was a smoking pot on a regular basis. Needless to say, his parents were furious. He was sanctioned for his reckless behavior and spent most of the summer on restriction. While he was on restriction, he was not hostile or difficult.
When asked why he drank or smoked, he said he liked it and everyone else was doing it. His parents reminded him that because everyone else is doing something illegal and inappropriate is not justification for his behavior. His parents reaffirmed every time he drank or got caught smoking pot, he would be restricted. They reminded him that it was his senior year and that many of his senior activities he looked forward to could be in jeopardy. He confirmed that he understood. He also said that he thought his parents were overreacting and that most of his friends' parents didn t have a problem with social drinking and pot smoking.
For Mr. & Mrs. T., the drinking and pot issue are very troubling. They do not feel much support from other parents. They know that many of their neighbors with teenage children turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to these social behaviors. They refuse to do that. Their consistency at this point is helping their son to stay on track.
Inconsistency on the part of parents and other adults in authority is putting all of our children and members of our community at risk. We need to confront this now!