Parents of young children sometimes live under the illusion that if they parent well, they’ll be spared the challenges common to the teen years. It’s what I personally hoped for when my little ones were young. But as my kids grew and changed, I realized I needed to, too. Here’s what I learned along the way.
I learned to approach beloved family traditions with flexibility.
We raised our kids with the expectation that every Saturday morning started at the local coffee shop. It was a tradition we all enjoyed and looked forward to until my kids suddenly sprouted into teenagers and wanted to sleep until noon.
Instead of taking a hardline approach, KidsHealth professionals recommend flexibility when it comes to family activities. “Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad,” they advise frustrated parents.
Demanding rigid adherence to family activities will likely backfire, creating a tense situation — exactly the opposite outcome desired. So instead of an unyielding “always” tone, try the posture of “sometimes.” Then identify those family activities on the calendar that rise to the “mandatory” level and let the rest go.
I learned to accept a fluid dinner hour.
It’s long been my ambition to eat dinner around the table together, but things grew to a new level of helter-skelter with high schoolers coming and going amidst sporting events, invitations from friends and other commitments.
As life bulges to unprecedented levels of busyness, stick with family dinners whenever and however possible says clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting. If one teen must be absent, carry on with the rest of the family. If a partner is out of town, make the effort to gather the teens on your own.
The humble dinner hour provides a level of connectivity with teens that’s been tied to better grades, lower levels of depression and suicide attempts and less experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex, says Markham. Furthermore, teens who eat dinner with their families show a healthier approach to food, writes Cody C. Delistraty in The Atlantic. Wherever your family dinner comes from or however awkward your conversation may seem, Markham insists it’s worth being intentional about eating together around the table.
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