Growing Up and Clamming Up Too Soon

Recent television news images of young adolescents grieving the violent shooting deaths of classmates and teachers serve as reminders of the intense pressures facing today's children and teens. Forced to grow up by the constant and increasing barrage of pressures many adults never faced, today's kids need parents who are in touch and working hard to keep the lines of family communication wide open.

A new study released by Philips Consumer Communications indicates that even though our culture forces kids to grow up too soon, parents are taking little time to talk with their kids about the stuff that really matters. The "Let's Connect" study examined the communication patterns and content of middle school students (grades five to eight) and their parents. Here are some of the "Let's Connect" findings:

**Parents and their middle schoolers don't spend enough time talking**. The survey found that most parents (58%) and almost three-quarters of the kids (73%) say they spend less than one hour a day talking to each other. Sadly, nearly half the kids (46%) and a quarter (27%) of the parents say they talk less than one-half hour a day.

**Parents don't know what's important to their kids**. If parents aren't listening, they can't understand. That accounts for the difference in parents' perceptions of kids' priorities. Parents said the top ones are: 1) fun; 2) friends; and 3) looks. While these things are definitely important to kids, here's what the middle schoolers listed as their top priorities: 1) their future; 2) their schoolwork; and 3) family matters.

**Kids don't always find it easy to talk to dad and mom**. Only one in five kids (20%) say it's easy to talk to their parents about the things that really matter. More than a quarter (26%) said it was "somewhat difficult" or "very difficult" to do so.

**Parents and middle schoolers both say they aren't allowed to explain themselves**. Ever find yourself listening harder to what you think your teen is saying rather than what they're really trying to say? You're not alone. Most kids (57%) said their parents don't always give them a chance to explain. Just more than half the parents (51%) felt the same way, saying their kids do the same.

**Middle schoolers like the opposite sex**. Some two-thirds (62%) of the kids said the opposite sex was an important issue. Only half (52%) of parents thought their kids were interested in boyfriends or girlfriends.

Overcoming these communication barriers is an important key to leading our children from childhood into a spiritually and emotionally healthy adulthood. CPYU echoes the communication tips for parents offered by the "Let's Connect" researchers. Here are those suggestions:

**Make time to communicate**. Your kids want to talk. They need time and opportunity to talk. Make and take the time for communication. Start with simple things that are often forgotten, like eating meals together or talking while riding in the car.

**Listen to the little stuff**. You may not think it's important to listen to what your kids have to say about school, friends, homework or what you consider "trivial" issues of early adolescent life. If so, you're wrong. These things are important to your kids. If they know you aren't listening about the little stuff, they probably won't come to you about the big stuff. Take an interest in everything they have to say.

**Listen between the lines**. Sometimes they find it difficult to open up about the difficult issues they are facing. At other times, they may struggle to find the right words. At all times you must pay special attention to what they might be trying to say. Read their expressions. Listen to their emotions. Ask clarifying questions. You'll be helping them open up.

**Ask their opinion**. Do you want to make your kids feel valued, special and important? Ask their opinion on a regular basis, and don't forget to listen as they share it! Ask about the important and
not-so-important issue - everything from school to friends to the job you're doing as a parent to politics, etc.

**Don't interrupt**. Give them time to explain their opinions, even if you think you know what's coming next. If you've been interrupted, you know how quickly good communication can get cut off.

Reproduced with permission from [The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding](