Redefining your Relationship with your teen
As summer approaches, teens are returning home from college for vacation, and high schoolers will also be on vacation soon. Oh the excitement when our teens come home. We’ve missed them. We can’t wait to catch up on all they’ve been through and to mother them again. Parents soon realize though, something has changed. The child who went off to college is not quite the same one who returns home and you realize you have to redefine your relationship with your teen. The way you handle the change will greatly improve your relationship or cause a lot of friction and uncomfortable moments.
I always think no matter how different our teens are, one of the things which must never change in our relationship is mutual respect. I don’t think there’s ever any excuse for a teen to be rude to their parents, and this must be made abundantly clear if your teen tries to cross the line. Having said that, I do think parents have to realize their teens are young adults in the making and must learn to give them some space and respect as well. It works both ways. If you show your teen respect, they in turn will respect you.
Here are a few touchy subjects one may need to deal with over the summer.
1. Sleeping in.
I remember when we were kids sleeping in was never allowed. Our parents felt like we needed to get up and do our chores and if time permitted one could take an afternoon nap. Teens these days are different. One of the things that stuck with me during orientation for my kids was that they would want to sleep in a lot and we should allow it at least initially. In college, these kids get to study late into the night and are used to having late nights and late mornings. They are also exhausted from the stress of exams and just surviving college. So I’m not condoning laziness but do give them a little room to adjust before insisting on them waking up with you every day. Don’t get into a tug of war with your teen. Give them a few days to relax. It’s only a matter of time before they reset their systems and learn to wake up with the rest of the family.
2. Changes in your teen’s body
Your teen is most likely going to come home a little more comfortably built than when you first dropped him or her off to college. Parents handle this differently. A lot of parents are quite laid back about this and realize this happens to a lot of teens, fondly called “the freshman fifteen.” Other parents and family members may not be quite so understanding and decide to tackle the problem head on. This is a very sensitive issue. Most teens realize when they’ve gained weight and are uncomfortable about it anyway. Calling them out and insisting that they lose weight creates a lot of friction and anger. Instead, let them come to you for help. Or give them more healthy choices at home. I always tell parents if there is no soda in the house, they can’t drink it. Nutritionists advise us to talk to patients about being healthy, together as a family. Don’t talk about “weight” all the time and definitely don’t call your teens fat. It leads to low self-esteem and even eating disorders. Do fun family activities that encourage movement like walking, playing basketball, camping instead of spending the evenings in front of the TV. Sometimes even encouraging your teen to get a job is helpful. They are up and about instead of sitting at home and eating out of boredom. Of course be practical about where they work. It is not helpful for your teen to work at a fast food joint when they are learning to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.
3. Appearance/ Dress
Your always well-dressed teen comes home and now only wants to go out in Yoga or exercise pants and T shirts. My friends and I always sit and lament about how our teens don’t want to dress up anymore. These days, it’s all about comfort. I learned to ask myself: “Is it worth it fighting about what my teen is wearing before every outing or should I let it go and just go with the flow?” Perhaps they are not inappropriately dressed, they are just dressed differently from what we think of as appropriate. This is one time when you really should pick your battles. Wait till it really matters and then explain why this time the yoga pants are not appropriate. When you talk too much you’re seen as a nagging parent and your teens won’t listen even when what you’re saying really makes sense. Let it go. Nobody is judging you or your teen. Enjoy their company and say something only when it’s important. Of course hopefully your teen is not going out “half naked.” That is an entirely different story and hopefully you do have a good enough relationship that when you do explain why certain clothes are inappropriate they will listen.
This is a very big one. Should you still have curfew? What time is good for an older teen or young adult? What do you do when your teen breaks curfew? This is a very difficult issue for most parents. I once had a mom complain to me about how her child wakes up in the morning and is gone all day and only returns home in time to sleep, and repeat the cycle the next day. We have to remember that our teens have so much freedom when they are in college, and it’s hard for them to come home and suddenly become your little boy or girl again. If you come on too hard, they will literary just disappear. I know families in which teens refuse to come home for vacation. This is not right but there obviously is a reason why it has come to this. Sit with them and decide on what is appropriate for your family. Talk to them and get a feel for what they think. Be reasonable about the rules you set. Wouldn’t you rather have a rational plan with your teen about their coming and going or have them refuse to come home at all?
Redefining your relationship with your teen is not easy but it does not have to be very difficult either. Think back to when you were a teen yourself. Didn’t you wish that you had parents you could talk to? Be that parent. Give them space. Show them that you love them even when they are not dressing the way you’d like them to and teach them to trust and respect you. Take an active interest in your teen’s wellbeing and safety, without overwhelming them with too many rules and regulations.
This summer, make it one to remember by redefining and having a great relationship with your teen.