This might sound shocking, amid all the media attention given to the negative impact of the country's growing rate of rigorous high school curriculum, homework and extracurricular demands on our overachieving young teenagers. But I will actually be addressing the plethora of emails coming into me from parents seeking help with their underachieving teens. Yep, underachieving.
To be clear, the letters I'm receiving are not stating concern for possible drug use, depression or anything significantly harmful to their teens' lives; other than a general slacking, laziness, lack of connection to the family and an inordinate amount of sloppy irresponsible habits.
I'm talking about the kids who might, at one point or another, have been more than decent students, who cared about a result, who used to love and talk to their parents. Who showed promise of wanting to go out into the world one day and tackle whatever it was their hearts desired. The parents of these slowly morphing teens are freaking out, and completely out of answers for what to do about it.
The very first piece of support I would offer all parents, even slightly familiar with this sort of teenager, is to remind you of the old but wise phrase ... "Patience is a virtue." Remember when they were little and you thought they would never stop using the pacifier, or go to the bathroom, or learn to wave? Most of the kids eventually made their way to where you thought they should be.
As parents, we were supposed to learn that kids are on their own time clock and, sometimes, no matter how much we push for something, it's going to happen when it happens. The best we could do was be patient and help facilitate.
In the case of teenagers, it is surprising to know how parents can imagine that because a child is nearing 18, they will suddenly become responsible, reasonable, appreciative people. No, not so easy. Our teenagers are wildly busy not knowing that they are figuring out who they want to be, who they don't want to be and what the heck they are going to do when they aren't kids anymore. It's a trying, difficult time for many.
I subscribe to the idea that the key to effective parenting in teens is in the communication. If there is none, there are sure to be problems. Whatever we're doing when communication is not happening, we need to stop doing it. Change your reactions to your son or daughter and the view to which you have become so accustomed, and find a new one.
If you often end up fighting and yelling with your teen, stop it. Use a different tact. Force yourself, even if you have to stay silent, but stop the bad pattern. If you're always quiet and ignore, stop it. Find a different tact.
Make it your mission to change what you're doing that isn't working. A cardinal rule to effective teen parenting is in the timing. Pay attention to when you say what you have to say.
Just like your marriage or in your relationships, it's much more productive to have a conversation when no one is upset, angry or otherwise emotionally occupied. Save it, as hard as it is to do sometimes. Wait for the time when your child can hear you. And speak to them in a way you normally do not.