What teens require is mutual respect. When you are frustrated with your teen who is rolling their eyes, talking back, walking away from you and slamming their door – do you lower your tone, practice self-regulation (take a deep breath) and come from a place of empathy? Tough as it is, welcoming disagreement in a spirit of humility is foundational to building respect and a good relationship with your teens.
Are you connecting with your teen? Talking, laughing and sharing versus lecturing, warning and threatening? Maria Coyle, Associate Head of School for George Washington University Online High School, reminds parents that even after they have built a solid foundation for their children and prepared them to handle the outside influences of peers and social media, they still have an important role to play in their teens’ lives. “Being present for your child, talking with them, noticing things and encouraging them continues to positively affect their growth and development”, she says.
The average parent today is overwhelmed by the cares of life — work, bills, looming unemployment, separation, care of elderly parents, multitasking, etc.
It is very difficult to keep up with the stresses of life and handle a developing teen who is driving you “nuts”. Don’t forget that the child’s brain is not fully matured until about age 25, making this period leading into adulthood a confusing time. So this is where parents need to exercise empathy and hope that as your teens get older, “the parts of the prefrontal cortex responsible for judgment and decision-making will be developed enough to serve as a brake on runaway emotions and risk-taking. Executive-function skills, such as solving problems and planning strategies, continue to develop at least through age 20” (Study by Sheffield Hallam University, U.K., 2015).
In the meantime, the saga continues. So while multi-tasking has become a way of life for many parents, you need to find quality time to engage with your teens, especially if they are initiating the discussion.
Van Achterberg, founder of Capitol Hill Child Psychiatry in Washington, DC, urges parents to drop everything if their teens want to talk. “Put down your cell-phone, computer, laundry or whatever pressing matters you have, because nothing is more important than hearing out your teenager when he wants to talk”. Ignoring them could suggest that they don’t matter to you. These opportunities are rare so don’t lose them, and if the topic they raise is something that you are not familiar with or don’t have the answers to, redirect the questions to your teen; they could be testing your response. Ask your teens what they think or suggest they research the answer and share it with you. In this way you are giving that listening ear whilst empowering and validating them.
Do you always finish your teen’s sentences, laugh before they are finished or react in any way before they are done talking? Creating a healthy child-parent relationship, where your teen is encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings is not always easy and requires both sides of the equation to work together. In parents’ desperation to relate to their teens, to be cool or to demonstrate energetic engagement, remarks and reactions may easily come out forced and unnatural. Practice being an active listener. Duffy suggests parents remain silent as much as possible. “My strong bias is to listen more, speak and interrupt less”, he says. “Getting to know their world will diminish your parental anxiety”.
In cases where teens are not communicating enough, don’t try too hard but create the environment for a conversation to be sparked and for you to be connected with your teen. By making the effort to spend time talking to your teen every day, you will find that communicating with them about the ‘big things’ will become much easier. One idea: try sharing something about your work day. For example, “The strangest thing happened at work today and I didn’t know what to do”, can lead to a conversation starter where teens may be empowered to share advice, thus boosting their confidence.
Find other chances to connect, such as watching a movie together when the younger children are asleep. This can lead to discussions and make them feel validated. At dinner time, try to do the highs and lows of the day as this is a great way family can connect in a non-threatening way.
Tell your teens you love them and let it show in the way you coach them, and show respect and understanding of the struggle they are going through in this critical stage. This too will pass. Always engage your brain before you engage your mouth and ask yourself if the actions you are about to take are Right, Reasonable, Regular and Redemptive. You might have more than one teen in your household and don’t forget that your interaction will vary from child to child based on temperament.
Providing your teens with greater autonomy as they grow, essentially means learning a new way to care for them. The learning curve will be well worth your time and effort, and will reward you with natural camaraderie and in the end an adult you had hoped for.
For Part I – click here.
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