Scarleteen Confidential: Quick Hits

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Welcome to Scarleteen Confidential quick hits! In this series, we cover topics that are important, but that aren't long enough for a full post of their own.

Ways to connect with the teens in your life

We talk a lot about allowing teens the space to explore and pursue their own interests. And while that's important, we still hear from teens who want to stay connected with their parents, even as they create lives that are more and more their own. So what can you do to stay connected without becoming the main component of their social lives?

  • Keep it Regular, or, as regular as you can manage. Something like cooking a meal together on a specific day, or going for weekly walk, or watching a certain TV show together gives you a regular chance to spend time with the teens in your life. Plus, having rituals of that type can help create a sense of stability and comfort, and give you both something to look forward to.

"One thing I really appreciated growing up is the tradition that my dad and I had (and still have when I'm visiting) of going out for breakfast together on Saturday mornings, just the two of us. It started when I was a baby and my mum wanted some time to herself, but over the years it became a great chance for us to have some dad-kid time together (which was pretty rare otherwise), and I especially enjoyed it when I was a teenager because we had kind of an unspoken agreement that there wasn't going to be any talk about homework or anything like that. If I was having a problem with something I could bring it up and he would happily talk to me about whatever it was, but it wasn't a time to nag me about anything and if I said I didn't want to talk about topic x, then it was off limits for that time."

  • Make what you do an activity where they can talk and you can listen. Hiking or walking, knitting or other crafts, cooking, and gardening are all examples of activities that provide the chance for teens to talk about whatever is on their minds, be that relating the latest school drama, their thoughts on politics, or asking for advice. Too, having something that you're both doing helps conversations feel less awkward, making it easier for them to feel like they can open up to you. If you take this route of connection, be sure to make this time together a "no nag zone." You can make that a formal rule, or an informal one simply by not asking about deadlines or things that have a due date. Having that be the norm gives them (and you) a space free of worry about all the tasks that will be waiting for them when you're done spending time together.
  • Maintain some literacy of teen media. You don't have to listen to every single band, read every book, or watch every movie that becomes popular. But if story or artist is very prevalent (and the teens you know are interested in it), it's helpful to check it out just to have a sense of it. That way, if teens talk to you about it or make references to it, you won't feel as out of the loop.
  • If they're really into a certain topic, ask them about it, or figure out ways to encourage their interest. You know how young children get super excited about dinosaurs, or tractors, or flamingos? That excitement and curiosity carries into the teen years, and nurturing it encourages them on the path to being the distinct, interesting individual they are and will continue to become. Helping them explore their interests also provides a chance to have experiences together, be that going to a museum, a sports game, a nature preserve, or a comedy club. Finding out about their interests helps you learn about what's important to them, and helps them feel as though you care about what's going on in their lives.
  • A relative of encouraging their interests is allowing them space to be weird. We talk to plenty of teens who feel as though they can't enjoy or be passionate about topics and activities that interest them because those subjects are "weird." The phrases "is this weird" or "I'm not weird, am I?" are familiar to those of us who work closely with teens. They fear that liking anything marked as odd means that they're not normal, and that not being normal is bad. They could be into the Rocky Horror Picture Show, bird watching, afro-punk music, cosplaying, you name it, and see it as something odd. That's the tricky thing about normal; it's a narrow box to fit into, and we'll all likely have a limb sticking out of it. Feeling as though deviating from normal is bad prevents teens from talking about interests that they feel are weird in front of people who might judge them. Adults, for instance.  When you ask teens questions about the "weird" stuff they like, encourage them to embrace strangeness, or even simply refrain from judging them for it, you keep them from closing off more rooms of their life from you (they will close off rooms no matter what, as well they should, since you do not need, and they do not need you to, be privy to every facet of their life). You become someone who they can talk to about things that they won't share with everyone. And, hearing about the weird, funky things that they're interested in helps you see them as a person, not just as a member of the category "teenager" who behaves in a limited, predetermined way.

"To a certain extent I think it's important to distance ourselves a bit while we're transitioning from kid to adult. Nobody wants to turn out an exact copy of our parents, we have to try out new things and question their views and go against their ways occasionally, just to see what else is out there and find out who we are. And parents should accept that. Letting go can be a way of expressing trust and respect, two things I absolutely craved as a teen."

  • Know that staying connected doesn't mean there won't be conflict. Even teens who feel close to the adults in their lives will clash with them once and awhile as they work out and experiment with what they think and what's important to them. That doesn't mean your bond isn't healthy, it just means you're independent beings who have different needs and ideas about the world. As cliche as it sounds, pick your battles. Decide which disagreements you can leave alone, and which rules you feel are worth enforcing so that you two are not constantly clashing.

Helping a teen through a break-up

If the teen in your life is dating, odds are there's a break-up in their future and yours. Break-ups suck, and they suck the most for the person experiencing them. But that doesn't mean it's pleasant to watch someone you love go through one, and you may feel at a loss as to how to handle it. Here are some tips to help you go about it.

  • Remember that everyone is different, and a teen might feel about and react to a break-up in a totally different way than you did when you were young.  Or, they might react to this break-up differently than to the one before it, or the one that comes after it.  There's nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that you can't assume that what worked for you will work for them. When in doubt about what would help, ask them.
  • Don't underestimate the little things. When you're feeling vulnerable, it helps to have small comforts or reminders that people in your life still care about you. A hug, a chance to talk (or a chance to be left alone), time spent playing with a pet, and yes, even brownies, can help a teen feel comforted.
  • Let them feel their feelings. It's true that there are always more fish in the sea, that broken hearts heal, that anger fades with time. But when they're right in the middle of those emotions, that kind of sentiment can feel dismissive, even if it's meant to be comforting. Give them time to process whatever emotions they have about the break up.  Know that those emotions will neither be pretty nor predictable.  They make be angry, depressed, guilty (especially if they were the one who initiated the break-up) or numb, and they might express those feelings by snapping at people, screaming into pillows, or seeming "blank" and low energy (just to name a few possible responses).  Having your heart broken is not a pleasant experience and it can trigger some raw emotions, so be prepared for that.  You may also find that a teen is not that fazed by a break-up because they weren't that interested in the relationship, they were the one who ended it and they feel good about that, or a myriad of other reasons.  Again, take your cue from them and their reactions to figure out how support them.
  • Listen to them if they need it. They may want a space to voice there feelings and thoughts about the break up, ask advice, or feel comforted. You job, in those moments, is to listen more than you talk and let them say what they need to say.
  • Encourage them to seek support and advice elsewhere. That could be meeting up with friends, chatting on a message board, or reading our helpful tips for getting over a break-up. Doing so helps them feel as though they have multiple people who share what they're going through, and it means that you avoid emotional burn-out, because you're not their only system of support during the aftermath of a break-up.

Helping someone through a break-up and learning how to stay connected with teens can be challenging.  Hopefully, these tips provide a starting point to make those moments a little easier for everyone.