By Jennifer Rudo
As a mom of teenagers, I’m always looking for ways to relate to my kids and I know other parents feel the same way. Experts will tell you that one of the best ways to connect with teens is to meet them on their turf. In my work as Teen Outreach Specialist for Prevention Education at Jewish Community Services, I have been able to catch up with kids where they congregate. Some of these places include coffee shops, sports centers and parks in and around the Reisterstown area. JCS also sponsors local rec sports teams. This give us another opportunity to connect with teenagers in the community by meeting them and their parents on the sports playing fields and courts. As a sponsor, we were able to take a few minutes at practices to talk with teens about what’s on in their minds and what’s going on in their world.
Topics that have come up are pretty much what you would expect; body image, social demands for perfection, peer pressure and the life/school balance. This is what is on their minds, and being able to bounce ideas, questions or problems off the right adult can make all the difference in the world.
Here’s why our professional teen outreach is so important. We all want our children to feel connected, validated and to know there is someone, an adult, they can talk to. If it’s not mom or dad, we want that person to definitely be someone they can trust. Research shows that a trusted adult is vital to teens as they navigate these difficult years.
Here are some suggestions I give other parents for opening lines of communication with your teenager:
- Don’t interrupt. Let them finish their thought because you may not get another opportunity.
- Be aware of your tone of voice and body language. Make sure that neither seem angry or judgmental.
- Give credit to their opinion. It’s really hard when you don’t agree, but they need affirmation that they are being heard. If you truly have a hard time with something they are saying, offer an alternative point of view in a supportive way.
- Follow up. Life gets really busy but if you say that you are going to continue the conversation after dinner, then make sure that you follow through. This helps increase trust.
The key to building a strong relationship with your teen is to keep the conversation going. Do that — and the benefits will continue for years to come.
By Jennifer Rudo, Teen Outreach Specialist, JCS Prevention Education
Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.