Dear Caring Parent,
Ok, so we all know that toddlers and teens are the two childhood phases with big parenting challenges and why, right? Knowing why may increase our understanding, hence our patience and humor around it all. But when it comes to our teens, how do we actually get them to listen, to talk, to participate, to stay safe, to plan ahead at least 5 minutes?!* Yeh, right!
Well, no one approach works with each teen, but here’s a handful I’ve used and observed to be most helpful:
1. Listen. Shhhhh – just listen. Listen for ideas, not just words. Listen for feelings, which you will get clued into from their non-verbal eye movements, expressions and gestures. Yes, this takes patience and putting all else aside.
- Is your teen who is whining and complaining in a panic about something, or trying to get out of something because they are afraid?
- Is your teen who is being remote feeling confused, out of control, or getting into trouble? Or maybe their behavior is a heads up reminder to do #4 below.
- Is your teen who is not handing in homework, not getting up on time, not giving you answers beyond a grunt, just being a normal teen (forgetful, screwed up sleep cycle, rebellious) or is he/she overwhelmed, or maybe has something difficult going on, or is changing their mind about what they want to do when they grow up…? Sometimes you have to say, ‘hey, I want to talk to you about this”. Sometimes having that conversation on the sly works best. Experiment. And listen.
2. Walk next to them. Mostly I mean that figuratively speaking. When they have an idea and you think it’s a little hair brained or risky, ask them questions as though you were walking next to a friend.
- “What would you do if….?”
- “What are others saying about what to do if…(the condom broke, a girl/boy says ‘no’, drugs are used persistently’)?”
- “How is everyone dealing with …(this course, that loss, strange happenings)?” It’s a great idea to start out with the neutral everyone/others before you get to “what about you?”
3. Consequences. Life has a lot of natural consequences. When you text while you drive, the chance of an accident increases 100%. But you want to get to your consequences before life dips in with the natural ones. That’s why #2 above is so important. A parentally established consequence has to be over something that creates discomfort. And it likely WILL bring on a teen tantrum – the ‘I hate you’, ‘you are ruining my life’, ‘but…but…but…’
- “I hear you/saw you drive while texting. Next time you go out you have to leave your cell phone in my hand. I’m not here, you don’t go.”
- “You are driving and texting. Not ok. You have to pay for your car insurance since you are knowingly doing risky driving.”
As you know, there are many ways to get around a consequence. So pick your battles and stick to your plan. Revert back to #1 and #2 and keep #4 going even as you move through your challenge of the day.
4. Point out their strengths. Every single teen has talents, strengths, and things they are good at. EVERY SINGLE DAY, sneak in strength compliments; what they are good at, how it helps you, how it will help them in life. No buts (‘but if you did this…it’d be even better.’ Eee gads, you just took away the compliment). This is not constructive criticism time, this is 100% purely compliment time.
- ” I like how you solved that problem – you are good at that.”
- ” I like how you put the dishes away, thank you, that helped me.”
- “I think it’s great that you care so much about your friends, you make a difference in peoples lives”.
5. Use your outside influencers. Know that somewhere in these years, your son/daughters life journey is increasingly shifts into their hands. There is so much that ‘moves’ a persons journey; genetic makeup, neurobiological makeup, nature of their temperament (cautious, feisty, adaptable), hormone balance, perceptions of things exposed to, learning style, brain balance, physical inclinations….When
you aren’t getting through to them, involve people you trust who are in their world; teachers, relatives, someone from your spiritual community, a therapist, coaches. It’s amazing what they can hear from someone else that they can’t hear from you. Don’t take it personally! I know that is easier said than done, but their developmental task is to push away into independence.
I talk to a lot of teens. The #1 problem they have with their parents is that they aren’t listened to. Meaning they don’t feel their parents empathize with their feelings and drives. Blame it on the remodeling of the teen brains’ cortex, which makes it hard for them to recognize the feelings of others. And the major shifts storming around in their hormone system. And, empathy a lot of times gets misunderstood by a teen to mean you have to agree with me!! What parents can do more of though is using simple phrases of “I know, it is hard”; #1 and 2 above. Teens actually will come to know they are heard.
You can understand their feelings, point out how you went through the same thing, but sometimes you just have to hug and not explain. It is so important that you be present even if it feels like its more from the sidelines. Your teen may not be revealing everything, but, as evidenced by how much they talk about you, they are noticing you. They notice what you notice about them, what you are doing, how you live your life and what you are like with them. And all that DOES make a difference.
Steady yourself Mom and Dad. Try to remember your own teen years. What a tumultuous time it is! Between the brain changes, the hormonal surges that are effecting everything from growth, to sexual development and sleep patterns, to acne/sweat/body shape, and the independence oriented developmental tasks of this age, well, need I say more!
Take care now, Natasha