Lake Norman & Mooresville

Don't underestimate value of a healthy relationship with an adult

Ashlyn Christensen, 14, a freshman at Jay M. Robinson High School, sighs when she has to explain to her mother that kids dress differently from her generation.

"We'll be going somewhere, and you'll be like, 'They're wearing that?'"

Her mother, Karman, can't help herself, she tells her daughter. "I mean, I know kids wear very little clothing now, but still when I see it, it's hard to take it all in." she said. "I just wasn't raised that way."

The mother and daughter may disagree on fashions, fads and especially the monitoring of Ashlyn's Facebook page, but the fact that they feel comfortable enough to discuss their opinions with each other shows a healthy parent/teen relationship.

Studies show teens who have open lines of communication with their parents are more confident, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to engage in risky behavior.

The key, said Dr. Jennifer Hawthorne, who specializes in adolescent psychology from her south Charlotte office, is striking a balance somewhere between hearing so much you could qualify as a best friend and hearing so little you may be thought of more like a drill sergeant.

"If somebody could come up with a perfect formula of how to balance being a parent and a friend, I think they would have a good moneymaker," said Hawthorne.

Striking that balance may be tricky, but it's essential to keeping your teen coming back to you.

"Once you've gone past a certain point, if you haven't laid down that groundwork and respect and solid relationship," said Hawthorne, "You're going to have a whole lot of trouble laying down limitations and trying to get them to share what's going on in their lives with you."

Keeping teens comfortable enough to talk can be a give-and-take process.

For example, it's fine to monitor a teen's Facebook page, but hopping on every inappropriate comment may shut down a teen's desire to talk with you.

That may mean letting some things go, like bad language on Facebook, said Hawthorne.

"You don't want to allow that with inappropriate company, but when they're with their friends, that's kind of what they do," she said.

Just make sure they know the boundaries for what is acceptable, and when they have crossed the line.

Research shows children feel they receive less positive family communication as they grow older.

A survey by The Search Institute shows 47percent of sixth-graders feel they have positive family communication, but only 22percent of high school seniors feel they do.

Letting other adults, such as coaches, church youth pastors and close relatives into your teen's life can help when they feel more comfortable talking with someone other than a parent.

Corey Milliet, director of children, family and youth ministries at First United Methodist Church on North Tryon Street, often lends an ear to teens.

"I don't judge them," said Milliet. "Whatever their issue is that they have that they need help with, my door is open to them."

Milliet said she works to create an environment where kids feel comfortable sharing their struggles.

Christensen feels the same way.

She's discussed with Ashlyn the teen issues she remembers experiencing like peer pressure, plus the new ones like sexting that teens face today.

"I know things are different now. I know that," said Christensen. "But she comes to me."