How to communicate with your teens

By: Susan Hughes

Author: Canadian Living


How to communicate with your teens

By: Susan Hughes
This story was originally titled "How Not to Be a Teen Player" in the September 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

They're easy to spot. These two-legged beings emerge from their beds at noon in search of food. They grunt "huh?" and fling their hair around a lot. They shower for hours. They sneer. They weep. They shrug. They are the dreaded tweens and their scarier, older counterparts, the teens.

Until recently, I was crazy enough to think we could live with them as if they were still children. I thought our three teens, our one tween and the two of us adults were coexisting quite well in our established hierarchy, with me ruling comfortably as head tyrant. But recently, our tween became a teen. Suddenly, we were not only being outnumbered but also outmanoeuvred.

Looking back, I realize there were warning signs – signs I never should have ignored. Listen vigilantly, dear reader, for phrases such as the ones below coming from the mouths of your t(w)eens, and be prepared to act swiftly and ruthlessly, or relinquish your throne for good.

"Just this once?"
It sounds so innocent, but it's the open sesame to the floodgates of forever. Permit your t(w)eens to do anything "just this once" (go to an unsupervised party, stay up past curfew, dye their hair, etc.) and there's no turning back. "Just this once" does not actually exist.

If you must respond verbally, these phrases may come in handy: "over my dead body" or "when hell freezes over." The best reaction, however (and you may want to practise this ahead of time), is simply a short appreciative laugh to imply that you know they must be joking; toss the chuckle over your shoulder as you walk briskly away.

"How was your day, dear sibling?"
Normal children complain about their siblings. They criticize them. They ridicule them. Polite chitchat between sibling t(w)eens at the dinner table is a sure sign of trouble. It might be the first step toward a fledgling allegiance that could end in a coup. Remain calm but interrupt the dangerous bonding behaviour immediately. Talk about something that will bore them to tears. Continue the monologue until their eyes are glazed, their chins have slumped onto their mashed potatoes, and they beg to leave the table.

"Let's take a vote."
When t(w)eens say this, they don't  want a show of democracy; they are making a run for power. If you and your partner have two or more t(w)eens and allow a vote, you'll either get a tie decision or be outnumbered. Either way, they'll get their way – and you'll get the highway. Never agree to a vote. Never. Make it clear that you are still the dictatorial lawmaker. Perhaps deign to hear their opinions, and tell them you'll consider what they've said. Wait one day, and then lay down the law – your law.

"Thanks for letting us decide, Mom."
What? You actually let your t(w)eens make a decision? They have definitely been playing with your mind. You are in danger.

Break any contact with your t(w)een. Go directly to the mirror and look in it. Grey hair, right? Go to the drawer where you keep the bills. See? Your name is on them: proof that you buy the food and pay for the heat. You rule. Tell them, "I'll decide this one after all, kids," and snatch back control. Quickly regain your rightful place as boss, ultimate leader and – yes! – head tyrant.

Susan Hughes is a children's book author, writer and mom who lives in Toronto.

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How to communicate with your teens