Most parents have big conversations with their teenagers. They have “the talk” about the birds and the bees. They have “the talk” about drinking and driving. They have “the talk” about drugs.
In between these big talks, weeks can go by with no real conversation at all. When they are at home, which is rare, teens give monosyllabic answers to direct questions while staring at their phones. When they are not at home, which is often, they communicate via abbreviated text messages with as few characters as possible.
It’s no wonder many adults think today’s teens are incapable of real, face-to-face communication, which makes the idea of initiating those big conversations even scarier—thus perpetuating the cycle of conversation avoidance.
But we cannot give up on communicating with our teens.
They need us and the wisdom we have to share in their teenage years more than at any other time. What they need from us, though, is not more lectures and warnings about the dangers and pitfalls of the world. What they need is opportunities to take responsibility for the decisions they make, so they can begin to know themselves and trust themselves.
The primary developmental task of teenagers is to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and what strengths, talents, and passions they can utilize to achieve their dreams.
When you remember this, you have a roadmap for supporting your teens in a way that is truly supportive. The good news is, you can provide that support without having to add another big conversations to the agenda. In fact, your power lies in the small conversations—the one-minute nuggets of wisdom you can drop into their consciousness just when they are looking for it.
In my opinion, the best conversations are those that reinforce three things:
· that your teens can trust their own Inner Wisdom,
· that they have a unique constellation of strengths, talents, and passions,
· and that you love and support them in good times and bad.
If you can remember these three things, you will find numerous times in any given day to have meaningful one-minute conversations.
When your teen has a decision to make, instead of giving your answer, ask what they think they should do. Ask what their Inner Wisdom says. Remind them that we all have the ability to feel in our bodies what is the good and right decision for ourselves and that learning to trust their gut feelings is important.
Pay attention to the times when your teen seems happy, engaged, curious, and confident, and make note of the strengths, talents and passions they are engaging during those times. Remind them that they get to decide who they want to be and that aligning their lives around their unique constellation of strengths and interests is a recipe for success and happiness.
Finally, take every opportunity you can to let your teen know that you love them—no matter what. Let them know you do not expect perfection but instead are there to help them find the value in their mistakes and setbacks. Let them know that as long as they keep learning about who they are, what they care about, and who they want to be, they are on the right path.
Most importantly, allow them the consequences of their decisions.
This is how we come to know ourselves and trust ourselves—by having the courage to take risks, explore, and reevaluate ourselves, our strengths, our passions, and our desires every step along the way.
If we can raise kids who look inside for guidance instead of looking outside of themselves, who acknowledge and play to their personal strengths, and who know they are loved and supported, we have done our jobs.