"I can't believe how different I am after camp. I feel more me, more real. I am not scared to see who I am anymore and I know people see me as I truly am. Supercamp let me build a kind of relationship I have never had before, one based on nothing but trust."
Believe it or not, the quotation above came from a junior high schooler.
I include it here not to overtly promote SuperCamp, but to make a point -- teenagers may seem distant and stormy, but they're secretly quite sensitive. Teens crave meaningful connections with you, with teachers, and with peers.
Unfortunately, teens are often stopped by fear. They're figuring out who they are and what their place is in the world. As a result, teens may feel vulnerable and hide their confident, capable selves.
Programs like SuperCamp go a long way toward breaking through fear. But there's plenty you can do as a parent to support your teen at home and in school.
Here are a few suggestions gleaned from 30 years of experience with over 70,000 teens:
- Really listen. Don't try to listen while doing something else. Put your chores aside so your teen knows you are paying attention.
- Take the long view. Remember, minor mishaps aren't major catastrophes. All incidents provide opportunities to practice good communication. Often, categorizing incidents according to their importance will help keep responses and consequences appropriate. Choose only the most important issues to evoke the strongest consequences.
- Make time for being together. Find activities you enjoy doing together and pursue them. If your invitation gets turned down, keep trying!
- Tolerate differences. View your teenager as an individual distinct from you. However, this doesn't mean you can't state your opinion if you disagree.
- Respect your teen's privacy. Just because your teen wants to keep their door locked, doesn't mean they're doing anything you wouldn't approve of. But if a behavior is worrying you, speak up!
- State facts instead of opinions when you praise or discuss problems. Ask your teen to demonstrate "OTFD" a communication tool we use at SuperCamp. Practicing this together is great for keeping the doors open!
- Discover your teen's learning style (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic). Knowing there are differences goes a long way toward explaining why we have problems understanding and communicating with some people and not with others.
- Create a positive study environment with your teen that includes appropriate reference materials, music, and reminders of their strengths (think old report cards, extracurricular awards, notes from teachers).
- Celebrate success! Positive feedback goes a long way toward encouraging repeat behavior. Each accomplishment by a family member deserves acknowledgment, such as verbal recognition or a special treat, like a trip to the movies, a special dessert, or posting on the family bulletin board.
There's no need to lose heart if your teen is struggling or your relationship feels strained. Small actions like the ones listed above help your teen feel valued and appreciated. Remember, your support means the world to your teen!