It’s a confusing time… for everyone.
Maybe your teen is confused by your rules, reactions, and expectations… and you’re just as confused by his or her actions and behaviors!
Teenagers are exploring a new world of independence, as they gain more responsibilities. But they also face the reality that they aren’t ready for true freedom yet.
Parents and teens simply live in different worlds.
You live in two very different worlds, two very different cultures. You have different languages, styles, food preferences, world views, values, music preferences, artistic expression, social habits, and maybe even religion.
Looking at this list, is it any wonder that miscommunication and misunderstanding are rampant?
Parents naturally try to pass on their values, which might conflict with the values and preferences of your teen. What they perceive is that you’re stifling and controlling… they don’t always appreciate the fact that you simply live in a different world. And vice-versa…
Sadly, too often each side remains locked in its world view or culture and cannot see the value in the other.
Asking the right questions…
What if, instead, there was a way to hit the “pause button” and begin to look through the eyes of the other and explore their world?
Like any good traveler, asking good questions and being non-judgmentally curious are the keys to making the journey adventurous and fun. And using strategic, open-ended questions beginning with an interrogative other than “why” is important.
For example, asking “What is happening that you don’t get up when I ask you?” is better than “Why don’t you get up when I tell you to?!” or “I noticed that you seemed sad the last couple days. Do you want to talk about it?” is better than “What’s the matter with you? You’ve been moping around the last couple days.”
Or, for the teen to parent, “I am not feeling heard, and it’s important to me” is better than, “You never listen to a word I say!”… or “It seems your mind is somewhere else when I talk to you” instead of “You don’t care about me.”
Seeing ourselves in each other’s struggles…
If we as parents can do this when our teenager seems sad or upset, it can help.
We both want acceptance, love, pleasure, belonging, hope, and significance, but we may disagree on how to achieve those or what they mean.
Culturally, there is an expectation that teens are going to be rebellious, that they will try to break the rules, and that they are self-centered. Instead of giving the benefit of doubt, we look for evidence to support our bias and feel vindicated and justified in reacting the way we do.
Sometimes there is such an “us vs them” pattern in the relationship…
…and it automatically creates an adversarial dynamic as the “go-to” in most conversations and interactions.
However, to establish a new pattern, it is important to explore the other’s point of view, even if we are convinced we know what they are feeling, thinking and can predict what they are going to say. It is far better to ask, to be curious, to explore, pausing to understand rather than interrupting to make a point.
Good communication is the answer…
When the divide between parent and teen is too great, that is generally a clue that communication has broken down.
It does not necessarily mean that the teen is rebellious, as in “That’s what all teens do,” which dismissively writes them off as a category (effectively closes the door to further constructive communication). If you keep communication open, you can foster in your teen the enduring skill of learning from others.
Good communication skills and managing emotions are key skills for restoring relationships… and they can be learned. That’s where I come in.
It takes practice to learn a new skill.
Often in the heat of an argument, we revert to our ingrained habits of yelling or making snide and sarcastic comments. To break the bad habit, strategies and agreements are made ahead of time.
I teach better communication habits that advance the conversation instead of shutting it down. Sometimes a cue is a certain look or posture that is triggering. Instead of going to the old habit of escalation, a new strategy is inserted with a reward.
New habits take time, so we practice in session, I assign homework, and give basic communication rules to follow. Good things take time, effort and practice, but are well worth the investment.
When your teen needs more…
Counseling can address deeper concerns around depression, suicide, or destructive behavior. As always, a basic suicide assessment is taken to determine if there is a greater need for support.
At the same time, I believe deeply that as social animals, many of the behavioral concerns and acting out stem from a breakdown in connection and attachment between the important people in our lives.
Difficulties in our lives, such as conflict with our teen, can be seen as a good thing, though well disguised. They are opportunities for parents to take a deeper look into their own woundedness and heal from those. While painful, this can be a necessary step in strengthening and restoring the broken relationship. It takes a tremendous amount of courage, but the dividends are well worth it.
Get started on the path of hope and healing…
Life can be more than just constant fighting or deafening silences.