How can parents intentionally focus on their teen in our fast-paced, hi-tech culture? We often feel like spinning plates. If one more thing is added, we'll crash into pieces.
Our teens are no different. They are overscheduled. Academics, athletics and school activities exhaust them. These demanding pressures fill their lives, while they juggle to maintain their friendships and hobbies.
Sometimes our schedules are so crazy that we put off spending time with our teenagers until vacation. When we're home, sports practice, homework, school commitments and daily chores distract us. Family trips tend to free us up to focus on one another without interruption. What if it were possible to develop a vacation mentality, even when we're home and going about our daily routines? By adopting a vacation mentality, we intentionally focus on what matters most: relationships.
Can we purposefully engage with our teens without cracking? Yes, by changing our perspective and being purposeful. We don't need to stop everything and travel a long way to make a difference. Instead, we can engage with our teens with what they are already doing — by caring about what matters to them.
Friendships take a high priority in our teens' lives. One way we show interest in our teens is by caring about their friends. Whenever they are in our homes or cars, ask them about their activities, classes, jobs, or family. Sincere questions make both them and our teen feel valued. Or ask our teen about their friends when they aren't around.
My son Justin doesn't mind me checking out his friend's MySpace pages with him. Actually, he begs me to hear a song sometimes. I listen to his and his friends' favorite songs and I look at their newest pictures or design template. I try not to judge them. Instead, I try to live out: "What matters to you, matters to me." The benefit? It keeps me in tune with what's going on and I learn more about who my son hangs out with and their interests.
When my niece turned fifteen, she asked for one thing: a text messaging plan for her cell phone. Texting connects teens; it's the new phone call. Maybe you think, "Why don't you just call the person?" I understand. Communication has changed and will keep changing.
If you have a text plan, use it to benefit your relationship with your teen. Learn enough to send messages during the day. Type a quick note of encouragement before a test. Consider getting a personal ring tone for your son or daughter. Let them pick the song. This shows them they are special to you — in a "techy" sort of way.
Being intentional with our teens means showing interest in their hobbies. Sometimes that means letting our son or daughter enjoy things we could care less about.
Beth did this with her daughter's desire to learn to horseback ride. Beth hates the smell of manure and has less than stellar moments on horses, but for the sake of supporting her, she made it happen.
Justin loves playing Xbox games. I don't. Learning to type was challenging enough. I sat next to Justin as he played a war game. He looked intense with his headset on, his focus on the TV screen.
"Did you get any new jobs?" Justin asked.
I stared at the action in front of me.
"What?" I said.
"I asked you a question."
"You did? Oh, sorry. I thought you were talking to the person you were playing with."
I discovered Justin will engage with me about his life and mine — but in his territory. His comfort zone is shoulder to shoulder, not face to face like mine.
What is your teen's comfort zone?
I'm sure I've missed opportunities with Justin. But that doesn't mean I should keep on missing them. Ten minutes a day of sitting next to him during a game is over an hour a week.
Look for ways to express your joy for their talents. Scoti encouraged her son's craftsmanship and proudly displayed the wood clock and end table he made in wood shop. When her other son Kyle took jewelry design, she wore the gold ring he made her out of a gold chain he had melted down.
Make the most of your driving moments with your teens. Let them play their favorite CD or talk about a current movie. For a surprise, after a game or performance, let them choose the restaurant. Justin feels special when we occasionally have him decide what we are eating. He never knows when that might be, but he's always thankful.
The plates of parenting spin consistently. Our job is learning to balance them all. With lots of plates spinning, we can miss the most important ones: our teens.
Make your teen's plate a priority.