Dear Caring Parent,
Ok, so we all know that the toddler and teen years are the two childhood phases with big parenting challenges right? While knowing why may increase our understanding, hence our patience and humor around it all, having some strategies helps. Teens are famous for not listening, not talking, not participating, risk taking, and not planning ahead even for the next five minutes! So how do we do our best to parent through these teen years?
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 they indicate through their non-verbal eye movements, expressions and gestures. Yes, this takes and mindset of 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. Communicate in the spirit of ‘walking next to’.
- “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, simple cause – effect. For instance, when we text while driving, the chance of an accident increases 100%. As parents we want to get to some consequences, like the drive and text one, before life pulls out the natural consequence. That’s why #2 above is so important. A parent-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…’ it’s still important to set the consequence.
- “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 increasingly shifts into their hands. There is so much that ‘moves’ their journey; genetic makeup, neurobiological makeup, nature of their temperament (cautious, feisty, adaptable), hormone balance, perceptions of things they’re exposed to, learning style, brain balance, physical inclinations….When
you aren’t getting through to them, involve people in their world who you trust. Those trustworthy others can be teachers, relatives, someone from your spiritual community, a therapist, or 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 from you into independence, as Dr. Dan Siegel writes about in The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. I felt more optimistic about the teen years after reading this book.
Teens can push our buttons. I talk to a lot of teens, though. 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. Or the major shifts storming around in their hormone system. Then there is the idea of empathy, which a lot of times teens misunderstand to mean ‘you have to agree with me’!! When in those gnarly moments, keep using simple phrases of “I know, it is hard” along with the different strategies identified 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.
Take care now, Natasha