Hey, Dad, (and Mom may need to help get the ball rolling), here are some suggestions and exercises that offer fellow parents some tools for your kit as you relate to your teenager. Some of these may also shed a new light of understanding on why your teenager behaves the way he/she does–and perhaps will help you better understand your own reactions. You have nothing to lose and maybe a whole new relationship to gain!
WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE A GHOST AT THE DINNER TABLE
Try this: Use humor. Acknowledging that humor may bury your ghostly carcass, it’s worth a try. In the middle of a discussion around the dinner table, one in which you are invisible, tap your glass with your spoon. Just like at a Rotary Club lunch, you are simply calling for attention. Once your wife and offspring have stopped, turned and bored holes in you with their death stare, just say “May I interject a point here? If it doesn’t apply, you may toss it out.”
Try this: Prior to sitting down to dinner, write “I need your help” on as many slips of paper as you have family members. Put a slip in each person’s chair. Once everyone has taken their seat you will have everyone’s attention and need to then take the lead. Announce that tonight you need them to help draw you into the conversation. Don’t demand involvement–simply seek inclusiveness. Ask for their counsel in helping you to contribute to the dinner discussion in a positive manner.
Try this: Talk to your spouse and explain your feelings of being left out of the conversation around the table. Stay calm. Ask that person to make it a point to bring you into the conversation and keep you involved.
Try this: This suggestion is not for the timid. If you’re a family that says grace before digging in, volunteer to return thanks and pray something like this” “Lord, we are grateful for our many blessings. Thank you for this family and for the unique individuals that we are. Help us to respect one another and treat one another with kindness. Guide our conversation around this table so that we allow each person to contribute. Help us to listen to one another. May this be a table of sharing food, feelings and ideas.” After the prayer, you’re on your own!
Try this: Send a message earlier in the day to your family members: CU 2nite @ dinner. Will UC me? The ghost @ the dinner table.
WHEN YOU WANT TO FOSTER AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Try this: Perhaps the only way you will elicit thanks from your teenage son or daughter is if you decide to model that gratitude toward them. Starting today, drop your offspring a note of thanks when he or she performs a task. Even if you had to ask that it be done, leave a thank-you note on a pillow, inside a textbook or maybe taped to a mirror. It will draw attention to the act of expressing gratitude and the good feeling it creates. More importantly, it may help your son or daughter realize that you took the time to acknowledge his/her contribution. This will require more than one note.
Try this: Turn it inside out and go overboard with the thank–you notes. Make it a family policy that every member will acknowledge each other for even the slightest gesture of kindness. Here are a few over-the-top possibilities. Remember, don’t get snarky.
- Thanks for cleaning your plate.
- Thanks for not slamming the door.
- Thanks for coming home safely.
- Thanks for saying thank-you.
This just may catch on and soon everyone may be exchanging thank-yous for the simplest acts of kindness. What a concept!
Try this: If you’re a praying family, hold a family devotional period and announce that we’re going to offer a prayer of thanks to someone else in the family. Draw names and take turns praying. For example, “Dear God, I want to thank (name here) for cleaning out the garage last weekend and let him know how much I appreciated his work.” After everyone has offered a prayer, hold hands for a time of silence. A little cheesy? Maybe so. Bring on the cheddar!
Try this text message: Thx 4 who UR.
WHEN YOU WANT TO IMPROVE VERBAL AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION
Try this: Pick a non-threatening topic for a discussion among your family members. The rules are simple. When you speak to someone or have an exchange, you must look him or her directly in the eye and not look away. This concentration just may prevent the customary roll of the eyes, closing the eyes in a dismissive attitude or just looking off into the distance. This will heighten everyone’s awareness of the importance of eye contact and facial expressions.
Try this: Pick a time when everyone’s in a great mood. (Be patient.) Using a digital camera, create a family “rogues” gallery. Start with yourself. Have your son or daughter describe the look you give them when you’re being judgmental … unkind … combative. Let them take a picture of each of those “looks” as you create it. We know how others look when they interact with us. We’re clueless how we look. Photograph each member of the family in this way, accepting suggestions from everyone as to the typical “looks” that belong to each member. Print out the images and create a gallery on a bulletin board. This may remind the entire family of the facial expressions that jam the frequency of clear and constructive communication.
Try this text message: I luv U. Hey, I saw U roll UR I’s!
WHEN YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SPEAK CLEARLY…INCLUDING YOU
Try this: Teenagers by nature either talk as if they have a mouthful of jawbreakers or just mouth off when they talk! This little exercise will have to be conducted in a spirit of fun and frivolity, so strike when conditions are right. Tell them about Demosthenes, the Greek orator, who used to practice speaking with a mouthful of stones in order to enunciate his words clearly in spite of his bulging cheeks. Get a supply of gumballs and have everyone stuff several in their mouths and carry on a conversation with one another. Instruct everyone to speak as clearly as possible so that they can be understood. The point is that speaking clearly and distinctly takes real effort.
Try this: When responding to a question from your teenager, purposely drop your voice at the end of each sentence, or turn away as you are answering so that your words are barely audible. When your son or daughter says, “What did you say?” do so loudly and clearly. But each time you are asked to respond to another question, repeat the process. Do so without letting on that you are mimicking your teenager. Over time, this will elicit comments from your son or daughter—then use this as an opportunity to make a point.
Try this text message: Hey, mlbsure seek uzph lob 3b.
When they reply that they made no sense of your text, send a follow-up message:
“Sometimes that’s how I feel at home when we talk. How about you?”
WHEN YOU’D LIKE TO DEVELOP A FRIENDSHIP WITH YOUR TEENAGER
Try this: If you have more than a couple of teenagers, this exercise may be a sizeable tax on your time. Make a date with your son or daughter. Set aside an hour or two for dinner or coffee out. Make it a special time to just hang out. Rather than creating a sense that you have any agenda, impart the notion that because everyone’s so busy, you want to play catch up and share what’s going on in your lives. Remember, Dad, this is as much for you as for your teenager.
Try this: Teenagers want to feel needed and appreciated. Demonstrate that you value their ideas, not just their “servanthood.” Think of an upcoming event such as Mom’s birthday or you and your wife’s anniversary and seek their advice on what you and/or the entire family might do to make the celebration really special. Involve your teens in the planning and execution.
Try this: Do absolutely nothing … at least once a week. Designate one hour each week and reserve it for a time to do nothing with your son or daughter. Give him or her $20 and ask to be treated to breakfast or lunch. Let your son or daughter choose the eatery and pay the check. It’s their treat (sort of) and your treat as well.
Try this text message: What can I do 4U 2day?
WHEN CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES ARE AN ISSUE
Try this: Devise a family activity called “cliffhangers.” Using a current family issue as a springboard—an incident in which your teenager may have used questionable judgment—share some times in your own life when you were faced with a difficult choice, and you either jumped off a cliff and suffered the consequences or you somehow put the brakes on at the edge of the precipice. You might come up with some hypothetical situations and discuss the possible consequences resulting from a range of choices.
Try this: Create your own Truth or Consequences game. Devise some scenarios and discuss possible outcomes depending upon choices one makes.
Try this: text message your teen this line: Thnk B4 U act or In all that U do, B smart.
- Truth: I really want to have sex with him/her.
- Truth: I didn’t study for the exam.
- Truth: I cheated on the test.
- Truth: I want to move out and get my own place.
- Truth: I wanted to see how fast the car would go.
We want to know what tips and triggers work for you. Please comment and let us know!