How to communicate with post-millennial teens

How to communicate with post-millennial teens

Photography by Carlyle Routh Image by: Photography by Carlyle Routh Author: Canadian Living


How to communicate with post-millennial teens

Today's post-millennial generation is the most tech-savvy ever. Born in the 9/11 era, they were weaned on tablets and smartphones. They can't remember a time without Wi-Fi. They're growing up with a world of unlimited information just a few button taps away.

Also known as "generation selfie" or the "like generation" for their affinity for social media such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, today's preteens are multimedia literate, multicultural in their interests and often multiracial in their identities. Many were raised in blended environments. It could be argued that the post-millennial generation's precociousness exceeds that of previous generations of youngsters, who heard fewer voices, saw fewer accepted lifestyle options, consumed less media and had far less access to personal technology.

Which raises some questions: Are parents just another competing voice among the many crowding our kids' mental bandwidth? Does rearing this generation require a different approach from previous ones? And should we capture their attention with a new style of parenting?

Heck, no. Here's why.

Savvy kids are still kids
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is thinking savvy, media-literate kids are more psychologically or socially advanced than they are, says David Worling, a registered psychologist and director of the Westcoast Child Development Group, a Vancouver-based psychology practice.

Your preteen
may use and consume similar media to an older teen and even present teen attitudes—rolling her eyes, departing a social media site right after you join—but she's not a teen, and she doesn't "need space" the same way a 15- or 16-year-old does. "An 11- or 12-year-old isn't at that developmental stage where they are ready to pull away or distance themselves. He or she still needs lots of support" from Mom or Dad, says Worling.

In fact, it's crucial to set clear boundaries that are appropriate to the age group: for example, limiting screen time, using filtering software and adjusting privacy settings on social media sites.

"Kids these days have unfiltered access to the same information that 16-, 17- and, for that matter, 23-year-olds are getting online. It gives them an intriguing lure to become more independent and peer focused. Yet, I don't think most 10-, 11-, 12- and even 13-year-olds are positioned to fully appreciate messages that are adult-driven and adult-geared. They shouldn't navigate through all these sources with just their peers to guide them," says Worling.

That's where good ol' boring, pre-millennial Mom or Dad comes in.

Be a resource

Don't fall into the "kids today are different—what used to work doesn't work anymore" trap, warns Julie Freedman Smith, cofounder of Calgary-based parent coaching consultancy Parenting Power.

"If we see kids for who they are, we can continue to parent our kids by loving them, setting and following through with clear expectations and consequences, and taking the time to teach the strategies they need to learn," she says.

Maintaining open lines of communication helps accomplish that. And guess what? In spite of the other voices out there, your post-millennial is listening for yours—especially when it comes to those awkward topics that move to the fore as they hit puberty: body changes, sexuality, gender, dating, school life, etc.

"It's easy to feel like your kid doesn't want to talk to you at times. Frankly, they may even be saying so on a daily basis, but we all say things we don't fully mean," says Cory Silverberg, a sex educator in Toronto and author of a series of children's books about sexuality and gender.

Looking at teens, who bridge the millennial and post-millennial cohorts, Silverberg reports that, "in one study, 63 percent of Canadian teens said they considered their parents to be a major source of information about sexuality. And 43 percent said their parents were the most useful source of information about sex. So it's important not to minimize your value as an authoritative resource, he says.

Keep the lines open
"I tell parents to stay in the picture by being present and boundaried. By being present, I mean bring up topics when it's appropriate. If you overhear your kid using a word like sexy or gay, check in with them later about whether or not they know what it means. Do they have questions about it?" says Silverberg, adding that watching TV or looking at ads together presents opportunities to broach the topics of sexuality and gender.

"The second part is being boundaried. Pushing your kid to talk about sex doesn't work. My advice is to bring it up, make room for conversation and, if your kid isn't interested, leave it alone. But come back to it in a few weeks. What's important is your kid knows they can ask questions, and they aren't afraid of getting into trouble or freaking you out," says Silverberg. Take a similar approach with other issues, too: Prompt, step back as needed, then prompt again.

Designate social spaces in your daily home life. "Create space for conversations at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school or hockey practice. Often, shoulder-to-shoulder conversations are easier than face-to-face," says Freedman Smith. That means turning off the personal tech—for you, as well as them. Toronto-based mom Jennifer MacLean takes advantage of time in the car to talk to her son about big-ticket topics such as what he sees on the Internet, like violence or pornography, she says. "Even if he doesn't talk, I know he is listening."

Consider family time the most important form of connectivity. Go hiking together. Give rock climbing a try. Get creative at a pottery studio or cooking class. Team up to train the dog. Catch a movie or show. Look online together for ideas… then put away the smartphone for some actual face time. 

It's normal for the distance between you and your kids to grow as they become more independent. Learn how to give them their space but still remain close.
This story was originally titled "Loud & Clear" in the September 2014 issue.
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How to communicate with post-millennial teens