All across the country students are preparing to start a new school year. The preparation process can be both stressful and exciting for parents and teens. In addition to organizing school supplies and checking wardrobes for appropriate school attire, parents have the optimal opportunity to connect with their kids on some important school year related topics. Research reminds us those teens that report strong communications with their parents are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.
Perhaps the puzzling part for parents is to figure out exactly which conversations they ought to be conducting. What follows is the short list on the top topics parents should cover:
1. Avoid assuming you know your teen’s back to school anxieties, ask instead. Some of the top concerns a teen has regarding returning to school may seem surprising to her parents. Among the most common fears are: concerns about class schedules, finding classrooms, finding lockers, and making and keeping friends. When you engage your teen in a conversation about her anxieties you offer a forum for her to openly discuss her worries. When you offer up memories of your own concerns, you may open the door to an in depth discussion about how your teen can quell the angst she maybe feeling.
2. The social scene can lead to pressure at difficult times and places. Study after study supports the supposition that teens often feel compelled to engage is high-risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use and even sexual activity due to peer pressure. Peer pressure can be both direct and indirect. Teens are under direct peer pressure for example, when a friend or group of friends insists that they drink with them at a party. Indirect peer pressure may seem subtle but it is influential just the same. A teen for example, may feel pressured to engage in sexual activity because he believes that all his friends are acting in kind. When parents provide a safe forum in which to talk about these very real pressures, teens are afforded the opportunity to get guidance and support. The key is to listen non-judgementally. Sometimes parents are prone to cut their kids off when they hear something that does not meet with their approval. The discussion then turns into a one-sided lecture. Unfortunately at times like theses, teens are more likely to stop listening because they feel that they are being judged and/or reprimanded.
3. The “sex” talk should be a series of consistent conversations. Sex can be a tough topic to tackle with your teen. Social media however, seems saturated with sexualized content. This means that if your teen is a social media subscriber, chances are, he has been far more exposed than you may realize. Once parents and teens can get through the embarrassment often associated with such conversations, the meaningful dialogue that ensues can have an important impact on your teen. What you think matters to your teen. Your teen takes his cues from you. Open and honest discussion allows your teen to listen and learn from you; in turn it assists them in making healthy informed decisions now and in the future.
4. It’s not about being “good” or “bad” it’s about making appropriate choices. High school life is often rife with labels, there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kids, ‘smart’ and ‘dumb,’ ‘jocks,’ and ‘geeks,’ etc. Parents should take advantage of their teen’s newfound ability to think abstractly. You empower your teen when you acknowledge that she possess the ability to make decisions on her own. Be mindful to avoid making generalizations that can translate into self-fulfilling prophecies. All humans make mistakes. More, importantly, one mistake does not mean that a person cannot repair, recover and move forward. When we label teens instead of their individual behaviors there are consequences. Teens labeled as ‘good’ can feel overwhelmed and anxious about one misstep. They may feel overcome by shame and guilt. Teens labeled negatively, may believe that since they are ‘bad’ only bad things are expected from them and therefore, they continue to act accordingly.
5. Goals give teens something to work with and toward. The beginning of a new school year offers up an opportunity to take on new challenges. Talk with your teen about his personal goals for the year. Goal setting can provide a framework in which to approach the new year. Goal setting offers parents an opportunity to learn more about what an individual teen values. When parents acknowledge, affirm, and support these goals they provide important validation to their teens.
Consistent communication with your teen is an essential element for ensuring a healthy, productive future. The beginning of a new school year provides a prime opportunity to approach an assortment of topics with your teen. The key is to avoid confining what you want to say to one conversation. Open and ongoing dialogue with your teen strengthens your bond and encourages your teen to make healthy productive life decisions in high school and beyond. Svetlana Braun