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Talking Tween

"My life sucks and I wish I was dead," cried my 11-year-old son. The words sliced through my heart as I tried to console him. My mommy radar went into full alert at such language. I know that this can be a sign of depression, and immediately I knew I needed to start helping him transition from tween to teen as the hormonal influences begin early.

This took us on a quick trip to a psychologist. That resulted in the psychologist reassuring me that my son didn’t truly want to be dead, he wanted his problems, like diabetes, to be dead and gone. She told me that my son’s issue is semantics, not being able to articulate what is wrong when he has an overwhelming day.

Next, I searched for additional ways to increase my connection with my son. I want him to feel comfortable telling me the good, the bad or the ugly. According to author and counselor Michael Riera, Ph.D., in his book, Staying Connected to Your Teenager, “The way to establish and maintain this connection is not as straightforward as the connections made during childhood. Now much is dependent on the creativity and perseverance  of parents.”

Here are some of the things I have learned from the teen trenches to help you preserve and strengthen your bond with your son as he moves through these growing-up phases:

Keep talking. “The difference is that one clams up and pretends not to listen, although the evidence proves otherwise, and my younger son and I talk about everything,” says Judie Brokenshire-Kavanagh, mom to a 12- and 14-year-old.

Movies. Go on a ‘date’ to a movie of your son’s choice. Be enthusiastic and receptive even if it is a genre you think you detest. This will give you a window into what he enjoys. If your son does not want to be ‘seen in public’ with you, try watching movies at home with him.

Move and talk. Whether you are walking the dog together or riding in the car, the parallel interaction seems to open the communication channels more easily than face-to-face.

Listen to him. “Probe only for clarification or more detail. Do not express your opinion unless he asks, or he will stop talking. Let him tell you stories about his friends and the banter on Facebook,” advises Caroline Trebilcock, mom of two teenage boys.

Get off the bleachers. Although it is wonderful to be a cheerleader for your son, “Get out there and do your own activity as well. You are setting a good example of lifelong fitness and fun,” says Parente deSoto. Down the road, your son may even want to join you.

Share his music. Have him take you through the music he likes. I know this can be a tough one, but ask questions as you go along.

Do not censure the conversation. “When 11-year-old girls are sexting my son, there is nothing that is off limits. I need to keep him safe,” says Brokenshire-Kavanagh.

Open your home. Host a gathering, respecting what teen boys need to do. Let him invite friends over, feed them, let them be loud and horse around.

Share his interests. Get involved in what has captivated him. You do not need to immerse yourself, just dip your toe into his area of interest. Who knows what new activities you might enjoy?

“Kids do not like when you talk in code. Say what you mean, mean what you say,” asserts Trebilcock.

Respect what is important to him, even if you see it as a passing fancy. Recall what was vital to you as a teen. You know how you felt if you were dismissed.

Counter any negative media messages about ‘horrible teens.’ Remind your son of all that he does well and support him as he practices becoming an adult.

Sue is a health and wellness journalist, and a mom of a tween boy and a teenage girl. Her bonding endeavors have led her  to try rock climbing, read about video games and watch action movies.

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