By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed.
Best friends! It may seem impossible to believe, but today's teens do want to consider their parents as friends, even though they think we could never understand the realities of their world. They are also interested in what it was like being a teenager during the Stone Age. Life without cell phones or the Internet must have been unimaginable!
So even with this interest, can parents and teens really become best friends when competing with busy schedules, and raging hormones? The answer is a resounding YES, and it is worth the effort!
What is important to understand is that both of you have to want the new relationship on a long-term basis. You cannot appear to be going through the motions, or acting like you are fitting this new relationship into your busy schedules.
As a father, I knew I was a good provider. I put food on the table, a roof over my teen's head, and helped fund those great sales that saved me so much money.
As important as the father role is, it was improving the "Dad" role that allowed me to develop a lasting relationship with my daughter. This also helped me with my two stepsons. Essentially, I modified the communication and problem-solving skills that I successfully used at work to improve my relationship with my teens.
The following are the ten ways that will help you to become one of your teenager's best friends:
1. Define what trust meant to each of you. Agree that there will be no games or hidden agendas-just honesty-to build the trust.
2. Agree that mutual trust is earned by exhibiting consistent behavior. The amount of trust that you develop will be proportionate to the amount of freedom that they will enjoy.
3. Anything that is discussed with you must be kept in the strictest of confidence. This will help reinforce the trust.
4. Talk to them as adults while remembering that they are still kids. This allows for flexibility during those trying adolescent years.
5. Become an attentive listener. Multitasking may be necessary at work, however it will make you appear distracted when discussing something important with your teenager. Learn to focus.
6. Ask the right questions without appearing to interrogate them. It is important that they not fear coming to you to discuss what is important to them. It is equally important that they feel that you will take the time to understand what they are trying to communicate.
7. Do not judge them for their actions or ever say, "I told you so! This helps in having them continue to come to you to discuss topics, and encourages them to do things better the next time.
8. When helping them with problem solving, discuss the desired outcomes first, and what they need to do to resolve their problem. Then allow them to proactively make their own decisions based upon the facts rather than reacting to their emotions.
9. Set guidelines instead of making rules for them to follow. They should have input into the guidelines, and then be expected to follow them. They will perceive this as fair and in their best interests.
10. "Hang out" together as oppose to just spending time together. Remember that there is a difference between motion and productivity, so make your time together interactive. For example, if you go to a movie, then go for an ice cream and discuss the movie. Or play some "one on one" games or sports. Do what best friends do!
If you want to be a better parent, don't forget the child within you. All too often, we get so wrapped up in being an adult that we forget how to have fun and enjoy life. I found that by using my imagination, I rekindled my creativity, and this made me an "okay guy" for my teenagers to hang out with.
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