A constant complaint I hear from parents and teens alike is that their communication needs improvement. Not surprisingly, how this communication ought to improve tends to differ dramatically; teens want Mom and/or Dad to stop making them feel harassed about their whereabouts and give them more independence, while parents want more and better detailed information about where their children are. As you might imagine, this conflict of needs can create some heated arguments which nobody wants. So why is this an explosive issue for some, and what are some simple ways to defuse arguments about communication before they start?
As most of us can remember, one of the most important and exciting parts of being in your teen years is the opportunity to find and grow into a new sense of independence. We can move from going out for dinner being the exclusive domain of our families, to being able to share an evening of food, movies and good times with friends only, for example. This new need for independence is a natural and desirable part of growing up, and will start to pervade almost every part of a teen’s daily life over time.
Part of this also involves not wanting to have a parent wishing to know where we are at all times, and seemingly calling every hour for updates. From a teen’s perspective, this perception can be maddening, and even build resentment toward one or both parents. There are many who would perhaps be willing to answer a call from Mom, but don’t wish to do so publicly and in front of all their friends, for fear of embarrassment. Either way, parents can have a very difficult time receiving the information they seek on their teen’s whereabouts, and naturally start to worry.
On the other hand, it is only natural and healthy for parent figures to wish to simply be aware of the comings and goings of their children; this is a key element of responsible parenting, and one that offers a layer of protection that all young people need, even those who are seeking to create more independence for themselves. Interestingly enough, despite the oft-stated wish for Mom and Dad to just leave them alone, most youth actually want their parents to care where they are and to set curfews of some type. It creates a feeling of comfort, as long as the accountability is created and enforced respectfully, and with input from all parties involved.
So how can parents have their need to keep their children safe met, while at the same time respecting a teen’s need to develop a healthy, necessary sense of independence? Here are two suggestions that have proven effective for many: first, the use of regular texts for updates on location can work very well. From the many teens and parents I have met with in my practice here in Kelowna, many rely on a system where location updates are given as a new place is arrived at (e.g. the Landmark Theatres on the west side). However, this works best when parents do not require hourly updates, or ask their teen how things are going dozens of times over an evening. The teen in turn agrees to provide prompt responses at designated times, and call immediately if help is required.
A second method to keep tabs on our teens in a healthy way can also involve a phone app called “Life360” (www.life360.com, or check your phone’s app store), which has quietly become immensely popular with families. Very simply, it maps where every included family member is (provided they have their own phone, of course) at a given time, provides the address, and has an option for “family chats” as well. Only invited people are on the map, so there is no danger of anyone outside invited family members tracking whereabouts. The best part? Everyone’s needs are met with a minimum of effort, and if a child or teen needs help for any reason, finding their location immediately is simple.
Parents knowing where their children are is a serious need, and rightly so. Unfortunately, during teen years it can conflict directly with healthy, growing senses of independence. If creative solutions are agreed upon by everybody however, the chances for anger, frustration or resentment to build are greatly reduced, and the ever-important quality of relationship between parents and children can remain positive and enriching. Why turn molehills into mountains?