If you remember anything about being a teen, it's likely the feeling that no one — including your parents — understood you. Teens are a bit hardwired in that way, but that doesn't mean you can't do everything in your power to make sure you're a good role model and trustworthy confidant for your child as they grow up.
Read through for 10 habits to make or break before your child becomes an angsty (hopefully not though) teenager.
- Stop cursing. Though this is a habit you should try to kick before becoming a parent — or at least practice avoiding when you're around your kids — it's especially important as your child grows into a teenager to watch what you say. If you reinforce the language at home, it becomes a lot easier for your teen to justify using it at school and around their friends.
- Buckle up in the car — every time. Your child starts emulating your behaviors basically out of the womb, and if you want your teen to buckle up when he gets in the car with his freshly licensed friends or to drive himself around, definitely get yourself into the habit of buckling up every time you get into any seat in the car — even the back seat.
- Put your phone away in the driver's seat. Phones as an extension of our bodies is still a new thing, as are the dangers of texting and talking on the phone while driving — but they're a very real thing. Try to be in the habit of leaving your phone alone while driving if you want to make sure they do the same thing when they're the ones in the driver's seat.
- Ask them open-ended questions — and listen to them when they're speaking. When we ask our children closed questions that are almost guaranteed to be answered with one word, we're doing them a disservice by not allowing them to openly speak to us. With open-ended questions, communication increases and parents are given the opportunity to listen attentively as their child speaks, which becomes even more important as they age and have more to talk about.
- Have dinner at the table as often as possible — without technology. Having a tech-free dinner at the table every night gives your family the opportunity to bond over food, laugh, talk about the day, and feel comfortable opening up to each other. Eating as a family not only encourages togetherness and healthy relationships, but if you have teens, it gives you some rare but guaranteed face time with them to be able to connect.
- Get to know their friends. Most parents would love the opportunity to choose their child's friends for them, but that's not exactly a viable option. To make sure that your child is hanging out with kids who are going to be a positive influence as they enter the teen years, get to know with all of them by hosting the best playdates as they grow up and always showing an interest — if you don't know a lot of the kids your child is talking about, invite them over and spend some time with them.
- Follow their social media presence. Parenting a child who is active on social media can feel like uncharted territory, so be sure to establish rules and figure out a monitoring process that works for your family when you first give your child a phone or tablet, and do the same if you are allowing them to be on Instagram or Facebook. Following your kids on social media and having them understand that everything they do will be visible to you will hopefully help them to make good choices online — and encourage them to open up to you if something is going on, such as cyberbullying.
- Show an interest in their interests. From a young age, a child's interests could change with the seasons, which can get overwhelming and hard to keep track of, but it's important to keep up with them. Understanding what your teen is interested in — the hottest new band, a video game, or an Internet craze — and being attentive when they talk about it will help them to always feel comfortable communicating with you, which means knowing what they're up to and being involved in the small parts of their life.
- Find something to do together. Whether it's hiking, painting, going shopping, or watching a TV show together, find something that you love doing with each other so that you can continue to carve time out for those activities with each other in between all the time they spend with their friends.
- Teach them that it's OK to fail, help them to learn from their mistakes, and let them know you will support them. Everyone makes mistakes, but the way you handle your child's failures is important as they grow — allow them to see an upset as a learning experience, rather than something to be ashamed of. Also, showing your child you believe in them through encouraging words is something that will empower them in ways unimaginable as they grow up. This reassuring guidance will be a huge help in the teenage years, when their decision-making skills and self-worth are both such important concepts.