"Kids aren't as scared of their parents as they used to be," says Paul Welter, a professor of counseling and school psychology at Kearney State College in Nebraska. "Since World War II, the power of parents, teachers, bosses and other authority figures has been declining. So rather than being an authoritarian, your best chance to exert influence over your kids is by being involved with them in regular, close, open communication."
"Great," you say, "but you don't know my kid!" Try these tips from Welter and you may suddenly find the situation improved:
Keep touch in your relationship. "Many parents back off touching their kids when they become adolescents," says Welter. "Yet touch ... creates a bond that makes it easier to maintain a relationship. Unfortunately, in our society the 'distant' ways to communicate, through hearing and sight, are much more prevalent than touch."
Pay close attention to "takeoffs and landings." These are the beginnings and endings to each day: waking up and breakfast; dinner and bedtime. They're ideal times for regathering in families, and they're also natural times for close intimate moments to talk.
Notice when your kids like to talk. It may be first thing in the morning or just before bed, or it may be at other times. Finding that moment when your child feels relaxed, unhurried and in a talking mood can have a tremendous effect on the discussion at hand.
Be sensitive to the ways your child likes to communicate. Welter tells of a boy who went off to college and communicated better with his parents than ever before. His favored form of communication? The letter home. Writing things down was a lot easier than saying them out loud. If your child is a writer, artist, musician or is gifted in any of the other arts, watch for what she or he conveys through these media.
Be aware of the way you say things: it's at least as important as what you say, which most of us learn when dealing with other adults. Use the same guidelines when dealing with your adolescents. Watch your delivery and be aware of the "vibrations" you may be unconsciously passing along. Kids are particularly sensitive to your comments about their friends -- be diplomatic.
Practice Socratic questioning. Socrates was a genius at it, and we should take a page out of his book. Socratic questioning means posing questions that helps kids find the way themselves, instead of your showing them the way (which doesn't always work anyway). You could say: "Have you thought about what might happen if you were with Susan when she shoplifts?" rather than "You could get arrested."
Show respect for your kids. Most adults prefer having a conversation with someone who clearly respects them. Your kids feel the same way. Show them at least as much respect as you do your colleagues and friends.