Thursday, May 16, 2019

Getting Teens to Talk to You

My friend Peggy, from Washington state, says that when their boys were young teens "They had a habit of bolting down food and then saying, 'C'nibescuzed?'  My husband would always reply,  'No.  You can sit here and entertain us with bright conversation.'"

Can you relate? We had at least one teen in our house during 16 years and we learned a few things during that time. I wish we had put more into practice, but here is some of what we figured out along the way with a little help from my friends.

1. Be available to talk
I recognized how important this was when I was on vacation and sharing a bedroom with one of my daughters. I was exhausted and came into the room for a nap, but she was crying. I really wanted to ignore that and go to sleep, but I pushed past the tiredness and started talking--mostly listening--to her as she told me about her broken heart. Later she told me she felt so loved when I just listened. 

I asked Rachel, the grown daughter of friends of ours who now has five kids of her own, what her parents did to keep communication open as they were a model family for me. She said, "I feel like one or the other parent was home 95% of the time we as kids were home. My memories of communication as a teenager almost always involve me sitting on a stool in the kitchen while my mom made dinner, sharing my problems with her. She was just always available." (Emphasis mine.)

Several of my friends mentioned how doing some activity side-by-side rather than facing each other helped their kids open up. This could be anything from riding in the car to doing dishes. It just seems easier to open up when you don't make eye contact.

2. Listen without Criticism
Okay, so we didn't always do a great job on this, but we tried to bite our tongues. If you get them to express their thoughts, don't jump in and refute or tear down. It's amazing how often they perceive what we say as criticism--whether it is tone of voice or the way we word a question. And who wants to talk to someone who just picks apart their every opinion?

3. Minimize the rules
My favorite book that helped with this was Have a New Teenager by Friday by Kevin Leman (my favorite parenting author). He didn't spend a lot of time making rules, he just expected responsible behavior and, when necessary, brought out consequences when they didn't live up to that. Rachel said, "I don't remember my parents handing down many rules to us from middle school on; they seemed to address things on a situational basis. They made us responsible for our own choices...treating us as the adults we would become...and held us accountable for our actions (like the time I put a hot iron on the carpet, and then had to pay to replace it!)"

4. Be a Student of Your Teen's Interests
Because my husband is interested in airplanes and airlines, our sons developed the same interest. Whenever I flew somewhere alone one of them was sure to ask, "What kind of plane did you fly on?" My answer: "Um, two wings and enough engines to get us there." You can be sure that didn't win points.

Then I discovered that that safety card they always tell you to look at tells you what kind of plane you are on! So I made sure to memorize that and to take a minute to look around at the seat configuration--was it two on the left, three on the right, or a wide-body with two-four-two? 

I also listened more closely when the news had something about airplanes--a crash, a new plane unveiled, an airline merger. Anything thing that they would be interested in. That way I had something to ask them about like, "So what's up with the 737 Max?" 

You can do the same kind of investigation for whatever it is that interests your teen. 

5. Read What They Read (aka Watch What they Watch, Listen to What They Listen To)
You know that novel they have been complaining about having to read for the last two weeks? Have you ever read it? Check it out of the library and read it. Then ask questions about the book. (You might sneak a peak at Spark Notes and get some ideas.) Don't be their teacher, but if you are genuinely interested in what they think about the book, they will probably talk. Check out what they are reading just for fun, too. I'm a reader, so this came naturally to me.

Even if you think the show is inane, watch it with your kids and talk about it. If there are back stories you need to know, ask them for an explanation. After, ask "What is your favorite thing about this show?"

It wasn't so natural for me to listen to the music they listened to. I flat out didn't like some of it and was glad it was on earbuds. I could have done so much better here, finding out the words and listening with them. Kids think about the words more when listening through a parent's ears.

6. Invite Their Friends for Meals
When kids go to other people's houses they rise to the occasion in the politeness area. You can ask the guest a few questions about what they are doing, what's going on at school, the novel they are reading, and they'll answer even if your teen won't. This will give you information about your teen.

7. Volunteer to be the Carpool Mom
Another way to get your kids to talk is to listen to them talk to their friends--you can eavesdrop in a car without guilt!  You learn a lot, especially if you don't butt in with your opinion. This information enables you to ask questions later that might spark a conversation. Were they all complaining about a bad call by the ref at last week's game? At dinner you might ask, "What's everyone saying about that game-losing ref call Friday night?" and possibly follow up with, "What does it take to be a good ref?"

While questions are good, don't become the inquisition either. Ask open ended questions where they can express their opinions and cultivate an environment where they know they are free to express what they really think. 

8. Be supportive
Rachel told me, "Even when we were less communicative, or even when we made choices that they wouldn't have made, they continually showed us verbal and physical affection, and they celebrated our achievements and our personalities."

The daughter I listened to instead of napping called me on Mother's Day this year to say, "Thank you Mom for always being there and for never giving up on me."

Peggy's sons are now grown men who come for dinner every Friday night. Peggy encourages us, "Something must have worked because now, many years later, we enjoy their bright conversation."

For more ideas on this: check out another post with thoughts from other parents about how to talk to your teens, and deal with the information you get, here.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

7 Tips for Feeding LOTS of Teenagers

One day my husband and I were running some of the multitude of errands required when one lives in a third world country. In Bogota no bills could be paid by mail or online, each one required a personal visit to the office where the money was due. No one store carried everything (or nearly everything) you needed to live. Bread came from fragrant bakeries where it was baked several times a day, and was only fresh a few delicious hours. Milk was not pasteurized completely and went sour the second day, so had to be purchased daily. Nails and screws and light tools had to be bought in one part of town, sewing supplies in another. Furniture was downtown. Notebooks, printer paper, pens, and other office type supplies came from only a few stores--if they had them in stock. That particular (and not unusual) day we went out early to accomplish four errands that would take less than an hour in the small city where we live now, and found ourselves running past lunch and starving. We stopped at a restaurant to eat and ended up spending the equivalent of a whole day's food budget for the six so that just the two of us could not feel hungry. And the food wasn't even that good.

That's when we made the decision.

We decided we would bring sandwiches along, or go home for sandwiches, rather than eat out when the only thing we needed was food. That's probably not a typical point of view. But we both have a frugal DNA. I just couldn't see spending $10-15 each for lunch when I just needed a 50c sandwich from things I had at home. Eating out was for special occasions or when home was too far away.

That said, I soon discovered that there is a time to not skimp on food: 

When you feed your teenager's friends. 

Scrimp and save in every way you can, but don't hold back on feeding teens!

Yes, it gets expensive and, no, they probably don't appreciate the fact that it is costing you a lot of money. (I always got upset when they took food on their plates and soda in their glasses and left half of it.) But it's not worth being frugal. The idea is you want those kids in your house and food is a huge enticement. If you can offer lots of food (it doesn't have to be fancy, exotic, or expensive), they will come.

The other draw is being an honest to goodness family. Sadly many of the kids around our kids don't have that. My youngest even went to a small Christian school in the states for high school. One day she came home and told us that of the nine people on the student leadership team, she was the only one living with her biological mother and father! And multiply that by the non-Christian families in your average public school.

So yes, it is expensive, but if you want to be the house where they hang out and you know what they are up to and can have an influence, you need to budget for feeding them.

All hospitality is costly--in food bills, wear and tear on your furniture and house, chipped and broken dishes, and even missing toys, pens, pencils, books, and more valuable items. It can be frustrating and messy and thankless (at the moment) but it is very worth it.

I have a friend from church who had some very good ideas that she implemented when her now grown children were teens, that I will share with you in future posts, but today I want to give you some tips on how to make having this kind of food possible:
  1.  Put it in the budget -- If you need to, rework your budget to allow for feeding your teens and their friends. The amount depends on your ability. If you can afford to order in great, but if you your budget is more frozen pizza and store brand soda, do that. It's all food and that's what they are looking for.
  2. Make a way to store it -- if you are going the frozen pizza route, you need some freezer space. Cans of soda, pasta, jars of spaghetti sauce...whatever you are serving needs to be available at the moment you need it, so clear out some storage space.
  3. Don't worry about peer pressure -- Our kids' friends had TVs in their room, name brand clothes, and their parents took everyone out to eat at expensive restaurants. Peer pressure never bothered me in high school, but it did when my kids were in high school! Not because I had to live up to the others, but I was concerned about what my kids were thinking was important. (Spoiler alert: my kids have amazed me with their grown up lives!)
  4. Make the meal the activity -- Whether you ask them to pitch in and help or you have a taco bar, DIY sandwich, build your own potato, or top your own pizza, this will work out cheaper than ordering in, make it fun, and give them food they like, because they make it themselves.
  5. Teens don't mind not fancy  -- In fact, most of the time they probably prefer it. Paper plates and cups mean there's less clean up for you and for them and they just want to hang out together and eat.
  6. Make it easy on yourself -- Teens aren't impressed by beautifully displayed gourmet food, don't pressure yourself to serve it they way you might for your friends. Cartons on the table? Sure! Communal knife in the mayo? Why not? Two liter bottles of pop? Okay! Sure, some families can have individual brand name cans of soda and buy store produced food trays, but the teens aren't expecting a classy buffet. As I said, they just want to hang out and fill up.
  7. Offer your food cheerfully -- no need to apologize for quality, quantity or the state of your house. This is important. I have learned that whatever you do with confidence, you can pull off. So just make them feel welcome--like you really want them there--and they will come back.
Not everyone has the personality to be THE hangout place. some people can just make themselves a part of the group and others are more comfortable in the background. Some parents thrive on noise and activity and some like quiet. Some have others who live in the house to consider, a small place, or a personality that needs a certain amount of order. Don't kick yourself for not being like that other Mom. Do things according to your personality, your kids' personalities, your budget, and your abilities. 

I will talk more about specific things you can do in future posts, so come back to get the scoop!

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