.Raising a Preteen.

Last night, I was putting my son to bed…

Before that, we spent half an hour in our sauna, and he is usually pretty tired after. But when he was in bed and I kissed him goodnight, nine-year-old Joel drowsily asked, “Want to lie down and chat for a bit?” I was secretly thinking how excited I was to read my Nora Ephron book “I remember nothing” and almost declined. And of course, it would have been fine for me to say no – it was already 9:00 p.m. and we had spent the whole long weekend together. Plus, my book!

But, suddenly, I remembered something else I’d recently read: The Emotional Lives of Teenagers by Lisa Damour, PhD. In her brilliant guide, she explains the importance of letting kids “call the meeting” — in other words, they should be able to decide when they open up about their feelings, their emotions, and their lives. Instead of parents always asking The Big Questions at the dinner table, when kids might be tired or not in the mood, we can wait for each child to invite us in, whether that’s in the car, at bedtime, or whenever they’re ready to share.

Here’s an excerpt from Damour’s book:

“Of course there’s nothing wrong with greeting our teens at the end of the day with a friendly ‘How was school?’ But we should be prepared for that conversation to go nowhere. Why? Because teenagers, at their very core, are autonomy-seeking creatures. When we ask a teenager about his day at a moment that works for us, we are in effect calling him to a meeting for which we ourselves has set both the time and the agenda… The same teen who stays at a distance during the day may pull up close at night. When this happens, let’s remember that we’re being called to a meeting we want to attend.”

Yes! As Joel invited me to stay and talk, I remembered this advice and changed my answer. “Sure, I’d love to,” I told him. “Scooch over.”

For the next 20 minutes, we lay together in the dark, stars above us, and he poured out his sweet heart. We talked about his hopes and dreams; our pre-Austria life in Canada where we spent so much time at his favourite playground and had tons of caramel ice cream; we played a funny numbers game; he shared all sorts of musings. It was a precious time together, and I’m so, so glad I attended his meeting.

So, I wondered as I headed to bed afterwards, how do we encourage kids to seek us out as listening ears? “By being around,” writes Damour. “Over time, I have come to think that teenagers feel most at ease when they know where their folks are, in much the same way that securely attached toddlers keep track of their parents’ movements around the house even as they pursue their activities. Further, having us nearby means that teenagers can readily talk with us about the topics they care about when, for them, the moment strikes.”

In order to be around, one of her friends reads in the same room as his teenage daughter as she does her homework; another folds laundry next to her kids watching TV. “For my part, I save my customarily drawn-out kitchen cleaning for times I know my girls are going to be home,” says Damour. “In this way, I am available, utterly interruptible, and right in their traffic pattern, just in case they have a sudden urge to talk.”

Smart, right? Any other insights you’ve learned along the way? I love hearing thoughtful tips, especially as my boy approaches his teenage years.

What always works for us is when I at least once a day, look him in the eye, smile and tell him, ‘I love you.’

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