If you have a teenage child then you must always have an eye on him/her and your ear to the ground.
Be the sound(ing) board
As children grow out of their young, innocent stages to be half-knowing teenagers, the first thing that creeps into their behavior in silence. Words trail out of their mouths like chewed pieces of sour candy. The non-stop minute-to-minute accounting of happenings in school stops abruptly and there is a lot of mumbling and murmuring. But this is not healthy. Do not let this silence grow. Always pull them into conversations, share your life and happenings and plans in detail; ask for their suggestions. Treat them like your buddy, someone you invest your time and faith in. This might free them from their tumultuous school days and open them up and also get a handle on their emotions.
Have watchful eyes
Some children slide into teenage without much event. But for some, it is a bumpy and eventful journey that is filled with emotional ups and downs. Always notice their body language, look for signs of resignation, reclusiveness, unkempt appearance, sleeping trouble, unwillingness to be social and sullenness in their moods. Inspect their room- under the bed, nooks, and crannies for signs that would tell you the state of mind they are currently in. Do it without stalking and prying. If your instinct points out some oddity or if something feels amiss, go ahead and talk to your child.
Friends and foes
Be familiar with their friends and those they have/ had fallen out with. Notice their backgrounds, the clothes they wear and their attitudes and the places they hang out. Single out instigators and influencers in the crowd your child is comfortable or uncomfortable with. If he or she is being bullied or his confidence getting trampled over, do not hesitate to approach the school or a private child counselor. Work to motivate the child and get them back on track. It would be great to maintain communication with the parents of your child’s buddies to always be in the loop.
Notice their crushes and fanboyish reactions to people too. Speak to them about unsafe, early sex, misuse of drugs and all kinds of destruction these can afflict on his/her life.
Be aware of their digital activity
Most children of today live a second, fuller life online. With several different identities on social media, they could simply walk into dangerous traps and irretrievable places. They could be at the receiving end of threats and bullying that sends them down a spiral. But it’s not always easy to keep track. They could create secondary accounts to hide their primary accounts, create and delete accounts and information online, in a heartbeat. So their footprints are difficult to trace and the trail runs cold after a certain point.
There is also online gaming, which gets them specific earnings. Children could be saving up their food allowance or commute allowance or even stealing to cover up their defeats and owes. Above all, it could be eating up all their time they are supposed to devote to studies and learning. Be updated about what they are doing and always make them talk about it, in their own words, clearly without any unsurety. Find out if they are pressured or bullied into something. Keep family pictures and credit cards detail out of their reach and draw the boundaries clear so that they don’t use it when you are not around.
Even if you are working, take calls from your children. If you are busy tell them you will call back and do. Always be ready to lend a patient ear to hear them out. Offer them appropriate advice without pushing them down the deep pit of guilt and anxiety. Teach them to be independent but do not instruct them to spend time with young kids or those of the same age. Always engage them so that they do not need to look for a company just to kill time. Impress upon them that you are aware of what they are going through. Listen and be empathetic to them. Spend quality time with them, in a way they will enjoy. Don’t smother or do PDA and put them into embarrassment.
To be or not to be?
Parents of today face the dilemma of whether to be a friend to their teenage children or to maintain their respect and distance as a parent so that they do not cross lines. The best thing would always be to be open and frank to them and talk matters as they are. Never try to portray yourself or your spouse as heroic and invincible. Be the erring, foolish individuals we all are. Accept your mistakes but do not give them room to fail just to experience the thrill of it. Share your learning. Teach them the value of hard work and perseverance.
Lead by example
Most young adults and teenagers learn most of the things only by observation. So be the best example is to be who you can be. Dress appropriately and conduct yourself appropriately. Be the same everywhere. Don’t put up acts in front of your children or tell white lies they could pick up and build on. Do not show off or hang out with friends you are not comfortable with. Avoid stress-eating, trying hard to quit habits and even discussing fads (like a dietary and costume) in front of them.
Vijayalakshmi Sridhar’s stories explore human relationships and their dynamics. She is enjoying her journey as a writer of fiction and features.