The Surly Years



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The noisiest part of the day used to be the minute Mark Dickson’s daughter burst through the door from school.

Dickson, a stay-at-home dad, looked forward to hearing about his daughter’s day. “Now Amanda’s 12 and I’m getting ‘radio silence’,” says Dickson. “A grunt, a ‘when’s dinner?’ or an eye roll is a chatty day.” We all know it’s important to stay involved in our tween’s life, but breaking through the crusty exterior is daunting. Adolescents typically begin to distance themselves from their parents to assert their independence and to become their own person, separate from the identity of the family unit. They form strong bonds with their friends during this time. Becoming your tween’s confidant (or at least a soft place to land) can give you a running start at the turbulent teen years that are approaching.

HOW DO YOU CRACH THROUGH THAT CRUSTY TWEEN EXTERIOR?
Active listening
Asking open-ended questions can help to avoid the grunt or single-word responses. Avoiding the third degree will prevent further reinforcing that thick anti-parent shield. If an adolescent starts talking about ANYTHING, respond with words that encourage more dialogue. “Really?” and
“Wow, then what happened?” might get her to unravel a whole scenario that is bugging her.

Parents often underestimate the stress a child is feeling; perhaps to parents the day-to-day conflicts between a child and her friends is not as stressful as making ends meet in their bank account, but to a child, the world is ending.

Feeling out whether a tween wants help to solve their dilemmas requires the skills of a diplomat; trying to avoid the ‘you shoulds’ and keeping the tone positive isn’t easy. “I wonder if this would work,” sounds less preachy.

Actively listening helps children feel their parents will be available when they really need them.

How to listen:
• Keep eye contact
• Nod As she speaks
• Shut up until she’s finished or asks a question

CONNECTION POINTS
Some kids would rather type out their feelings over an instant messenger window than talk in person or on the phone. Why fight it? Getting on your tween’s friends list for MySpace or Facebook and keeping connected electronically might provide a window into your child’s life.

When we’re relaxed we talk much more. Spending time becoming the Guitar Hero (or trying to) might get a kid laughing and talking. Thinking that only non-plugged games are the solution might make a generation gap wider.

Tuning into your kid’s station on the radio while chauffeuring to games or lessons might prevent the ‘earphone blockage’. Caution: singing along if you don’t know the words, will probably result in advanced eye-rolling!

FIVE THINGS PARENTS SHOULDN’T SAY
(but we all say anyway!):
1. when I was a kid…
2. you’ll understand when you’re older
3. because I said so
4. don’t give me that look
5. if your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?

FIVE THINGS TWEENS SHOULDN’T DO
(but they all do anyway!):
1. roll their eyes
2. slam doors
3. sigh loudly
4. walk away
5. think you’re stupid

The surly years are a rite of passage. It’s up to parents to figure out a way to stay in touch, because our kids really do need us. PC

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