Keep the Lines of Communication Open with Your Teenagers

“I can’t believe we are planning your graduation … time has just flown by!”
These are words that resonate with me as a parent as we prepare for our daughter’s graduation from high school this June.
It starts with senior skip day, senior trip, senior outing, then prom, and ends with the commencements. There are so many fun-filled activities, then young adulthood begins — the glory of being done with school and the excitement of a new beginning. For some college follows; for others, a first job commitment or travel.
Summer is the highlight of the year for children of all ages, a time of fewer responsibilities, sleeping late, and, often, newfound independence. After nine months of homework, social pressures, and ongoing obligations, all of the structure and scheduling that has gone on during the school year changes to a time of freedom in the summer.
The worry parents share is that sometimes teens will look for adventure, risk, and excitement, especially in the summer. Many parents work full-time throughout the summer, some go on vacation and leave teenagers with relatives or friends, and some teens are left alone when parents are away. Most seniors are at an age of independence and social responsibility. They’re driving, working, and beginning a college journey, but younger teens are still in need of our guidance and personal touch.
The adolescent brain is changing and beginning to think abstractly for the first time. Abstract thinking is a requirement for problem solving, and teens need to master this skill to make it in the adult world. This evolution to abstract thinking helps explain why teens begin to challenge their parents’ opinions, limits, and rules, and why they turn more to their peers for advice. This can be very frustrating and painful for parents, but it is critical that parents continue to show interest and start conversations on a positive note.
Remember, it’s the little things that go a long way. Leave your children a note, send an e-mail, keep their favorite snacks on hand, and always say good morning and good night to them. Here are some other suggestions:
• When your teen wants to talk, stop whatever you’re doing and give them your undivided attention.
• Take every opportunity to be a part of their world; for example, share their favorite music or TV show.
• Think of ways to connect with your teen at their level.
• Studies have confirmed that parents can have a significant — if not the most significant — impact as to whether their teens will engage in risky behaviors, so take the time to have open, caring, thoughtful, ongoing conversations with them.
• Prom and summer vacation should be a fun time that teens will remember fondly the rest of their lives, but freedom and fun need to also have limits. Establish a summertime curfew for your teen. Check in with their adult supervisors, such as coaches and employers, and meet their friends, especially those your teen hangs out with most often.
Families need to work together to piece together a summer schedule that will keep teens busy and provide the level of supervision necessary to keep them safe and making good decisions. Empower yourself to be engaged and an active partner with your adolescents. They need you! –
Lynn Garreffi is nurse manager of the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Emergency Department;