Part 2: Make the Car a “Safe Zone”
One of the biggest no-no’s that parents are regularly committing is making the car a place where they connect with their teen. Your kiddos rely on you for regular transportation, and in the car, there is nowhere to hide! The car is the perfect place to talk, right?
Imagine your teen’s perspective: she’s been “on” all day at school, learning, working, and socializing. She had to remember her homework in Algebra, her project from Spanish, and her orchestra instrument. She took a test in Language Arts and a quiz in World Geography. Her best friend cried at lunch because her boyfriend was being distant, her friend group had some drama about a SnapChat post gone wrong, and her favorite teacher is out for the rest of the year because her mom is sick. Her head and heart are full from an exhausting day. She gets in the car at the end of the day and shuts the door, ready to relax. Finally, no one is needing her or asking her to do anything.
Instead, there you are, eager to talk – “How was your day?” “Did you do well on your quiz?” “Is Sarah still mad at Craig?” “Did you remember your project?” You may have been thinking about her all day and wondering how she is doing, so when you see her, it feels natural to want to check in about all of these things, to show her you care, and to connect.
However, it is critical that you give her the time and space she needs to decompress first, and that is different for every teen. Most of them need at least a few minutes to stare out the window or listen to their music, and many of them need much more than that. Notice their body language and cues – do they seem eager to talk right now? If not, respect their boundary and wait. Nothing is worse than feeling cornered, even if you have the best intentions.
And if you do have something import you need to confront your teen about, say their lack of studying in the evenings or refusal to follow your rule of no food in bedrooms, ask them when a good time would be to talk. Find them at a neutral time at home, such as after dinner or during breakfast, and say “Hey- I want to check in with you about studying. Would tonight or tomorrow night be better for you? What time?” Give them choices and some power to say what works for them. Just because the issue feels urgent to you doesn’t mean it actually IS urgent. Take a few deep breaths and seek cooperation and connection with your teen, not conflict and control.