In parenting we rely a great deal on instinct and we often take for granted that we will instinctually know what to do as a parent. This serves us well in the beginning when our main job is to keep our child safe and provide for their physical needs. However, as our children grow, they have more complex emotional needs and our instincts may need a little more help.
The teen years can be some of the most challenging, as anyone will tell you. Even those who have never had children will sympathize with your plight of having a teenager. However, the teenage years can be greatly eased with just a little bit of preparation and knowledge. One of the main complaints I hear from parents is that their teens don’t talk to them anymore and they don’t listen to parents’ advice. The task of parenting can feel significantly different when kids become teens. When we parent younger children we tell them what they can and cannot do. “Look both ways when you cross the street” “Don’t touch the hot stove” These do’s and don’ts are very straightforward and young children listen more to our direction.
Teenagers however are in a phase of exploring who they are and what they believe for themselves. Also they begin to value the opinions of their peers more than ever before. Therefore, it is no longer as effective to simply say “Don’t do drugs” Teens are more likely to defy their parents’ directives and experiment with various behaviors and actions.
Teenagers will often say to their parent “You never listen to me” Our automatic response is to say “that’s not true, I do listen to you.” Consider that your teen may be right and just really focus on listening. Here are some ways to listen more effectively.
1. Reflect back what they are saying. For example, your teen says “Sarah brought a cigarette to school today.” I know, even just reading this the parental alarm bell is going off. But in this crucial moment if you launch into a lecture about the dangers of smoking you will probably lose your teen and the conversation will likely end there. Instead you could say, “So Sarah brought a cigarette to school today, what happened next?” This keeps them talking and keeps you more informed about what is happening in their lives. Then later, you may find an opening to return to the topic and offer some of your own thoughts.
2. Whatever your teen is interested in, become interested in that thing. A friend of mine, who is a very wise parent, said one time “I wished that my son was more interested in baseball, but he was interested in dancing, so I became interested in dancing.” We all wish that our children will grow up to be like us, but the truth is they will grow up to be themselves. The more we accept that the more we can just enjoy who they are rather than be at odds with it.
3. Don’t argue with your teen or try to prove why you are right. Human beings love to be right, but when it comes to communicating with your teen it is time to let go of this urge to be right. Teens are experimenting with different perspectives of the world. If you constantly try to prove your point, they may begin to feel that you see their perspective as wrong, which is damaging to their self-esteem and can cause them to shut down and stop sharing their perspective. Instead ask them questions about why they think what they do. This will help them form and refine their own opinions.
Our instinct is often to closely guide our children to behave and think in ways that we know will help them get along in life. But in reality, our children have to find their own way. The best thing for them is if we move to a position of guiding from behind as they make their way into adulthood.