Are you the parent of an adolescent? Well then, here are 7 conversations you must have with your teen to help him easily navigate the change from child to adult.
By Divya Sreedharan
Teenage is a significant period in a child’s life and can be equally challenging for parents too. After all, this when there are often periods of conflict. Views and viewpoints can clash and at times, your child’s behaviour can become a barrier to a heartfelt conversation. But as a parent, you play an even more vital role at this time in your child’s life. Your child needs to know that you are there for them and that you understand what they are going through.
So, it is important to initiate an open dialogue with your child on topics that are considered 'difficult' such as drugs and substance abuse, or sex and sexual urges. Other issues that will figure prominently in your child's life will be related to future education and career choices. You also need to ensure that your child grows up eating healthy. Talking about all this is vital. For, it can help your child build a solid foundation for the later grown-up years. At the same time, you need to prepare yourself to have these conversations with your teen.
Here are some points to keep in mind before you embark on those heart-to-heart chats:
Ask yourself, are you ready? As a parent of an adolescent or a child who is touching teenage, are you prepared to deal with all the changes that are in store for you? For that matter, have you read up on the right way to talk to your child? Arundhati Swamy, Head, Parent Engagement Programme, ParentCircle, points out: "As a parent, you could read up informative and easy-to-understand booklets or material brought out by organisations such as TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues). These can prove very useful for both you and your child,” she says. It is also a good idea to look up videos that are easy to understand and relatable. But remember, it is always wise to check if the content in such videos is appropriate for your child.
The ‘right’ age to talk about change: As parents, you may sometimes wonder if there is a ‘right’ age to talk about the changes that are part of growing up. After all, your child too needs to be ready to absorb or take in what you tell them. And should there be a difference in approach for a boy and a girl? According to Arundhati, parents of a girl need to engage with her much earlier than teenage. “This is primarily because many girls attain puberty by the ages of 9-10 years today. So, as a parent, you may end up talking to her at an earlier age about changes in her body. You do not necessarily need to have that conversation with boys of that age. They may be ready for a conversation after age 12 onwards. At the same time, as a parent of a boy or girl touching teenage, be aware that there is an exposure outside of the home, for example, through school or through friends," she points out.
Should mom or dad talk with a teen? Should mothers talk to girls, while fathers have one-on-one conversations with boys? Again, as parents, this is entirely up to you. Arundhati Swamy feels this can vary from parent to parent. “Generally, a mother will talk to a girl, while a father may discuss the same subject with a boy. But it depends on how comfortable you are with the subject and the relationship you have with your child. However, you must also remember that you cannot simply introduce a topic such as sex with a young child. Have general conversations or bring it up in a casual manner. Take cues from your child, he may talk about it himself or bring up the subject in subtle ways. And, look at how much information and what kind of detail you can share with your child, at a given time,” she adds.
Is your teen really difficult to talk to? The general perception is that teenagers are difficult to talk to. But parents need to look at teenage as a period of opportunity, for growth and, zeroing in on core pursuits, says Arundhati. "Your child is on a creative exploration, social relationships are widening, he is learning to understand his own identity through creative pursuits and, by taking risks. There is a larger purpose here too — to become a better adult," she explains. Another issue is of expectations. “Every parent has a certain expectation. You believe that the relationship you had when your child was young will continue in the same manner as they grow older. But during teenage, your child is exploring their own world. The relationship with the parent remains the same, but it is expressed differently. Now, your child will learn more about the world through interactions with friends and peer groups. However, friends may not exactly be the right source of information. Which is where you step in. Know that you must stay connected to your child. Also, accept that your child moving away from you is a positive development," she explains.
Substance abuse and risky sexual behaviour: Teenage is a time when friends play an influential role in your teen’s life. This can be both good and bad. For instance, your teen could face peer pressure with regard to substance abuse and drugs; it could even lead her into risky sexual behaviour. Do not hesitate to talk about such subjects. Equally important, you must let her know you are there if she wants to talk about it. As Arundhati points out: “As parents, you must model the listening behaviour. If she feels you do pay attention to what she is saying, then your child will listen to you too. Two-way listening is essential to open up a dialogue between parent and child,” she stresses. Equally important, do not be too critical or judgemental. “If you put down your child, then they will not be ready to talk. On the other hand, if your child feels you value their opinion, she will be ready to have an open conversation with you,” she adds.
Sex, sexuality and sensitive issues: Teenage involves a gamut of changes in mind and body. And that includes your child exploring sexual urges as well. Arundhati believes that the best way is to take a gradual approach and be sensitive to your child’s level of comfort. "Start simple. For instance, a conversation about physical changes can also touch upon physical attraction, sensibilities to touch, sexual urges, and so on. This can even expand to talking about masturbation and wet dreams. “As a parent, if you find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk about such matters. Then involve your partner. Fathers may find it easier to talk about this with sons. Or you could give your child a book on this so he can read up on it,” says Arundhati. Keep in mind that today, such a conversation will also have to include the role of social media, as also, the use and misuse of gadgets and, sexting.
Pressures and expectations: As children get into high school, there is the added pressure of academics and doing well at school. “Then there is the pressure of trying to fit in with peers. Or of choosing a particular subject just because their friends have done so," points out Arundhati. Apart from all this is the fact that children also find themselves loaded with assignments and school projects. As parents, you need to help your child deal with these pressures in a healthy manner. At the same time you also must let them know of the choices or opportunities that are available to them today. “Some parents believe that children must choose for themselves what field or subject they will pursue later on. But it is important to provide the right guidance and support here. But do not wait till they are in high school for this. Have casual conversations much earlier. After all, who else but parents can guide, support and help them through this phase in their lives,” points out Arundhati.
Encouraging interests: If your teen is good at art, maybe you can support him in pursuing it seriously. Or if your daughter excels at tennis, there is no reason why she cannot become a sports professional, one day. So, as parents, encouraging your child’s interests from a young age, is essential. “In their early teens, children are on a journey of self-discovery and identity. They may try out new interests. But by late teens, children do focus or become quite sure of their core interests,” observes Arundhati. What if you are not too happy about your teen’s choices or interests? “It is still vital to be supportive. You may not like it, but do not be indifferent or distant. Encourage him to talk and give him the opportunity to explore those interests,” says Arundhati.
The role of good nutrition: Teenage is a period of incredible physical and mental growth for your child. This means, nutrition and healthy food habits, become vital. And yet, teenage can be a time for problems related to body image. Is your child depressed, or anxious about her size? Is she starving herself to look thin because her peers have made fun of her? The key is to be aware of what is going on in your child’s life. Here, conversations around the dinner table can help. Sharing a meal together can help you bring closer to your teen. It can also give you an opportunity to inculcate healthy eating habits in your child. What's more, at mealtimes, you will be able to to observe her eating habits and get her to open up about what is troubling her.
Exploring the world of work: Teens also need to become aware of the wider world of work. From Class VIII onwards, make sure your child is aware of what work you do and how you do it. Or, if you are working from home or a stay-at-home parent, let your child know why. Let them know your choices. It could also be a good idea to let your child learn about what his friend’s parents do. You could even broaden this circle of influence to include extended family and neighbours. All this will make your child familiar with the world of work. So, by the time he is in Class X, your child will have a clearer picture of what he wants to do,” says Arundhati.
As parents, be aware that the teenage years are a springboard into adulthood. This is when your child establishes a sense of self and identity. Equally important, your child needs to nourish both mind and body in the right manner. As a parent, make your support felt in every way possible. Then, your child will feel loved and anchored despite the huge changes going on in their life.
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