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Help your children grow into healthy teens

October 01, 2013

Toddlers become teenagers way too fast, and many parents worry about what their adorable child will become. Most teens do very well, especially when supported by parents who play an important role in helping their children mature. Research shows that teens thrive when they have strong relationships with supportive adults.

Healthy relationships develop over years and their foundation is effective communication. Here, Richard Chung, MD, an expert in adolescent medicine at Duke, explains how you can open the lines of communication, and foster that strong relationship with your child now and as they become teenagers.

  • Kids don’t talk to strangers. The more involved you are with your child’s lives, the more impact you conversations with your child will have. Being involved should start early on. Make it a habit to spend one-on-one time with your child on a regular basis. If you’re child is already a teen, find ways to spend time together. Go to the movies, play golf, or go shopping. The latter offer spontaneous ways to start conversations.
  • Teens need parents, not referees. Make it a habit early on to actively praise your child whenever it’s appropriate. It’s okay to offer constructive feedback, but balance it with a healthy dose of praise. A single positive comment can go a long way toward building their confidence and self esteem.
  • I learned it by watching you.  If you aren’t able to share information about your life with your children, they are unlikely to do so with you. Parents are role models who should lead by example. Share stories about your childhood and what’s going on in your world currently. Establish a sense of openness that invites them to respond in kind.
  • Open 24/7. As your child grows and strikes up conversation with you less and less frequently, it will become more important to drop what you’re doing when they actually want to talk, even when it’s inconvenient. It inevitably will be late at night or when you’re walking out the door, but it will be well worth it if they are truly ready to engage.
  • Sigh…“What do you want now!?!” Make sure communication doesn’t just happen when something has gone wrong or needs to be done. If it’s always negative or stressful, teens will tune out. Touch base daily in a meaningful way. The value of sincere conversation with no motives other than to engage your teen cannot be overstated.
  • Meet them (well beyond) half way. It is undeniably challenging to get teens to converse. However, most parents know of at least a few things that reliably get their teen talking excitedly, whether it’s their new video game, their favorite celebrity, or something silly their friend did at school. If that’s their communication comfort zone is, then that’s where you should be.

 To make an appointment with Dr. Richard Chung, or another adolescent medicine specialist at Duke, call 1-888-278-3853.

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