by Dr. Polly Dunn, a licensed child psychologist, wife and mom of four. She is the director of the Auburn University Psychological Services Center and offers her “Perfectly Imperfect Parenting Solutions” at www.ChildPsychMom.com.
When my kids were younger, it seemed like they always wanted my attention. We could do just about anything together, and they would call it their “best day ever.” Remember those days? Me too! But now that they’re teenagers, it’s me who has to make the effort to spend time with them. In the blink of an eye it’s gone from them begging for my attention to me begging for theirs.
If you’re like me and want to stay active and engaged in your teen’s life, don’t despair. Try these tips, and you’ll see an improvement in your quality time before you know it:
STEP AWAY FROM THE SCREEN
Smart phones. E-Readers. Computers. TVs. Tablets. You name it and in this day and age we’ve got a screen that will distract us. No matter what your vice (mine is my iPhone), it’s important to put it away while you’re interacting with your teen. If you’re trying to spend quality time with your child, then turn off your favorite tv show, walk away from Facebook, put down the Kindle, and leave your phone on silent.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the two of you can’t share some screen time by watching television together or enjoying a game of Words With Friends on your smart phones. What it means is that when you are sharing time with your child, don’t let your personal screen use get in the way. I know your kids might be texting or tweeting while you hang out with them, but set a good example and show your teens that you prioritize time with them.
USE YOUR SOCIAL SKILLS
When we interact with other adults, we typically use good manners. We look them in the eye when we’re having a conversation; we listen attentively; we smile; and we don’t interrupt. Why then, do we think it’s okay to abandon our social skills when spending time with our teens? For instance, when I’m doing housework and my child walks in the room and speaks to me, sometimes I don’t even look up. I just answer them and continue doing my chores.
Imagine if you didn’t look your boss in the eye during a conversation at work or smile at your friend who stopped by for a chat. We’d never do that, so it’s important for us to show the same courtesy to our children and use good conversational manners with them too. In addition to showing our teens that we care, using good social skills provides them with a valuable example of how to behave in their personal and professional interactions with others.
BE A WILLING LEARNER
Your teen knows a lot, a whole lot. Let them take on the role of teacher, and I promise the two of you will grow closer. Think of something you want to know more about and have them show you how it’s done. For example, have you always wanted to put some of your music onto your iPhone, but are completely lost on how to do it? Want to make a digital scrapbook from your pictures of your last family vacation but can’t figure out how? Need to make a Power Point for a meeting but don’t have a clue as to what that even is? Well, guess what? Even though you might not know what to do, your teen knows how to do all these things.
Have your child give you some tutorials and remember, you’re the student and they are the teacher. Listen attentively, ask thoughtful questions and follow their advice. Then be grateful for their help, just like you would be thankful to a colleague, friend or professor. I’ve learned through the years that this is a guaranteed way to spend time with your teen, improve their self-confidence and learn a new skill all at the same time. Everyone wins.