As you transition (read Part 1) from being caregiver for a child to mentoring your teen, you will benefit from starting with a plan for times of offering explanations, fielding questions, providing guided experiences, and giving constructive feedback. It’s important to plan ahead for communication during times of non-conflict in order to effectively instruct and discuss how to make decisions and perform necessary tasks. While teens can earn a “because I said so” response when they’re questioning a directive, at the end of the day, they really do need to know “why” so they can make their own wise choices, someday.
You have reasons for decisions you’ve made about everything from the food you stock in the fridge to the vehicle you drive. In all probability, most of what’s behind the scenes – providing reasons for your decisions – has been completely unknown to your teen. Until now. Have you chosen to drive an older vehicle so you can get ahead on payments or avoid them altogether, allowing you to save up for a special trip or home renovation? Have you limited extracurricular activities in order to preserve some semblance of family life, never mind sanity?
From finances to health, relationships to education, your teen will likely be surprised at how carefully you’ve made decisions — even ones that he or she dislikes. You need not plan formal times for explanation, but having an agenda with things to mention, as opportunities arise, can be helpful. You certainly don’t have to reveal the details of your salary or bank account, but helping your teen understand how to make financial choices requires some detail.
Even if you’ve thought through a decision carefully and believe that you chose wisely, your teen may have questions that make you feel like you need to defend your decision. You don’t. In fact, you can probably cite plenty of choices you’ve made that didn’t turn out to be the best. Feel free to share them, too.
Perhaps as your teen thinks through the situation, he or she will suggest a different route than what you took. Try not to be insulted: This kind of problem-solving discourse is an important aspect of your teen’s development. If their conclusions are different from yours, but their logic is good, let them know. Of course, if there are important things they’ve failed to consider, you’ll want to mention that, as well. It’s not about their having to agree with you, but about their learning how to think through scenarios that are somewhat theoretical. This is a safe way for them to learn how to make their own decisions.
In conjunction with these pre-emptive communications, you’ll need to give your teen opportunities to practice problem-solving and decision-making skills. In Part 3, we’ll discuss how to provide guided experiences and offer feedback in ways that provide constructive mentoring.