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Improving Communication With Teens

Improving Communication With Teens

By Dr. June Stride View more articles

Tuned In

The desire to be accepted certainly is not new. We all want others to like us and to include us. Preteens and teens especially crave peer approval. Preteens and teens with learning problems, unsuccessful in school and with peers, are more apt to take risks or not recognize the risks that they are taking.

Innocent or Not?
Bellybutton and brow rings, tongue rings and toe rings, tattoos and special effect contact lenses, hip hop pants and … who can predict the next teen fashion? Sometimes what appears to be an innocent fashion fad represents a secret code used to communicate with peers. Sometimes it’s more a way to say ‘I’m in the know’ and to appear rebellious than to convey a truthful message.

The following illustrates just this. A new and much media covered fad for girls this past spring was the wearing of inexpensive colored plastic or rubber bracelets. No BIG deal, right? Immediately we think that it’s kind of nice the kids are happy with jewelry from the dollar store. Then we read in the local ‘trash’ papers that these are ‘sex bracelets’ and part of a game called “snap” in which each color signifies a particular sexual act. The girls, as young as elementary school, wear the bracelets and if a guy breaks one off her arm, she is supposed to deliver whatever sexual act the color of the bracelet represents.

Now we get upset. Wait a minute. These are our children. We are shocked and outraged first of all that our children know what each bracelet represents as well as the consequences of a ‘snap’: A kiss, a hug, lap dances, intercourse, lesbian sex and oral sex. Reputedly, teachers and principals at schools claimed that the fascination with the bracelets was so overwhelming that it was difficult to focus the students on academics. Some schools banned them to eliminate the distraction.

So what’s the real deal?
The truth is it depends what you read, with whom you talk and who it is that you believe.

FYI: In an article on, Student ‘sex bracelets’ an urban legend?’ makes an effort to dispel parental hysteria. While, a website devoted to getting to the bottom line about urban legends, says that the validity of the ‘snap’ sex bracelets is undetermined. A consultant for Teenage Research Unlimited, Kelly Egarian, says ”I think the media is making an issue out of nothing.”

What is clear is that it is unclear how widespread the bracelet fad is, unclear what children and teens think about it and unclear what they are doing about it. To what extent does your child use clothing or jewelry to communicate?

Bright Idea: We, the parents, need to keep informed and aware of what is happening. The hardest thing to do may be the wisest… not to over-react. Let your child know that you want to be aware of what is happening in their life, that you are there for them. Be a good listener; try to get their take on a situation to find out what is really happening.

10 TIPS to stay informed and improve communication
1. Continue to take advantage of ‘special’ moments with your child. When possible, lengthen the listening and talking time with them without badgering them. Affirm your unconditional love. Share some laughs together. (Check out for some silly jokes and riddles.)

2. Discuss and establish simple guidelines for increasing responsibility and independence. Chat about differences of opinions, negotiate and agree upon consequences for possible infractions.

3. Allow a measure of privacy in their room, on the phone and when entertaining within previously established and agreed upon guidelines.

4. Encourage your child to entertain small groups at home. Help devise fun evenings that teens will find challenging. Keep healthful snacks on hand. Observe clothing, language and behavior without being ‘nosey’.

5. Know your child’s skills and his/her talents. Help him/her to center fun activities around them to share with peers. (This is especially important for those children who are not particularly confident or successful in school.)

6. Pick up and read teen magazines from the library or supermarket checkout. Scan the topics, look at the fashions, try to get an idea of trends and what is being promoted and discussed. Use the articles to promote conversation. Listen to your child’s feelings regarding certain subjects, manner of dress, behaviors.

7. Make time to view with your child some of the teen cartoons/programming/MTV so you can be current on who is what! Keep up with their favorite musicians, celebrities, newsworthy figures and athletes. Hope that conversation results that allows discussion of values, some thought of short and long term behavioral benefits/drawbacks.

8. Make note of favorite teen activities, locations. (The mall, bowling alley?) Spend some time observing and listening.

9. Be positive. Be a great listener and a good role model. Be there for your child and your child’s friends who may need a responsible adult with whom to talk. Without preaching, make your values clear.

10. Consider putting the computer in a family room so that it is easier to unobtrusively monitor on-line time. Visit teen websites. Browse around to see what the mood and flavor is. Visit a chat-room. Find our firsthand what teens are thinking and talking about.

Panic and blame are of no value when it comes to sizing up teen fads in clothing, music, behavior as well as communication style. Our children, like us in a previous generation, intend to make a statement. They are going to make claims for added freedom and towards increased independence. We need to be there to encourage them and help them to learn to make wise choices. Tune in to them and their world. Above all stay calm and try to communicate with respect and kindness especially if they push your buttons.