Why I’m Taking 5 Minutes with My Teens
I still walk to the bus stop with my 9th grade twins. Before you assume that I’m a helicopter, snowplow, lawnmower, or some other type of “machinery parent,” please let me explain.
When my kids were younger, I admit that I used to go to the bus stop with them due to fear they would get hurt or kidnapped. But as they got older, I realized that I continued to walk to the bus stop to spend time with them. Recently I wondered why those five minutes felt different than the rest of the time spent together during the day. I then remembered a three-day training I attended when I used to be a counselor, which provided some insight for me.
On the first day of the training, the speaker began by asking us this question, “What’s one good thing that happened to you today?”
It was 9 am. My brain wasn’t functioning enough to think of a response since I’m not a morning person. I also thought, “Not much has really happened yet.” The class seemed to share my sentiment because only one other hand was raised.
“I drank my coffee,” said an eager volunteer.
The group erupted with laughter.
“Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you had a chance to drink a coffee. Anyone else?”
No one raised their hand. She moved on to the rest of her presentation and I forgot about her question.
The next day I sat in the same seat. Again she began by asking, “What’s one good thing that happened to you today?”
Oh, gosh she is asking it again. Surely, I should be able to think of something this time especially since she asked it yesterday. But my mind was blank.
This time three hands shot up.
“I was on time for the training today.”
“I ate a tasty breakfast.”
“My kid gave me a hug before I left the house.”
That day when I went home, I thought about the question and possible answers. I was determined to participate. After waking up, I paid attention to all the positive experiences I had.
When the speaker asked the question, “What’s one good thing that happened to you today?” at least fifteen hands were raised including my own.
“The sky was filled with beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow. Seeing it made me smile.”
The reason this technique worked is that the speaker asked the same question at the same time. This routine allowed me to anticipate and prepare to answer the question.
Walking to the bus stop every morning is a routine that my teens can count on to spend time with me. They sometimes ask me questions or offer information about their day. And rarely do they have their phone in front of their faces (unlike the rest of the time I see them).
Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist, says “Having a regular routine or ritual that you do with your teen will bring you closer. Parenting a teen is not a set of strategies. It is a relationship.” She explains that the only way you are going to have any influence on your teenager is through your relationship with them.
Even though it is only five minutes in the morning, it is enough time to create a connection with my teens. When they come home from school, they are busy completing homework or talking with their friends. And then they often have activities or sports, so there are days we don’t eat dinner together. There are some days when those five minutes are the only time I see them uninterrupted, which is why I value it.
“The time we spend together as families should be treasured. It should be spent supporting, guiding, and enjoying each other’s company,” said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Too many families waste energy nagging. The bigger goal is to learn to communicate in a way that strengthens your relationships and prepares your teens for healthy relationships with you in the future.”
In just a few years my kids might be headed off to college. So I plan to take as much time as I can with them even if it is only five minutes in the morning walking with them to the bus. Next year they will be old enough to drive to school, no longer needing the bus. As Dr. Ginsburg said, I treasure the time we have together even if it is only five minutes because I know how important that connection is for all of us.
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, AARP, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessing, Your Teen Magazine and many other publications.