It’s a tricky one isn't it? Teenagers are renowned for being challenging, and whether you are there in the throes of teen parenting and finding it really tough, or you fear your little ones reaching this stage of their development, do not lose hope! There are ways to talk to your kids about the things that are going on in their lives without it resulting in door slamming and tears.
Step into their world
I have written before about how important it is to ‘step into their world’ when talking to teenagers. Whether it’s stressing about not getting homework done on time, or breaking up with a boyfriend, or wanting to spend just ten more minutes gaming, this stuff is their life and they do not know any different.
When faced with one of these scenarios, depending on how you are feeling in that moment, you might be quick to jump in and dismiss their feelings.
“You should be more organised and get your work done on time!”
“Don't worry about him. You’ll have forgotten about him by next week.”
“Computer games rot your brain.”
…and you have a point. All these responses are true. But remember you know this because you have been there, you have life experience, and that comes from making the mistakes and learning from them. Your kid is experiencing these things for the first time, and whilst it might be painful to hear this, that may not give two hoots that you have ‘been there, done that’ and they may not welcome your advice.
So what to do in this situation?
Acknowledge their feelings and identify them.
Show them that you understand that they are feeling rubbish about this, and try not to dismiss these feelings by brushing them off. Allow your kid time to feel these emotions before offering advice on how to move forward. When they are ready, ask them what the first step might be for them to feel better. What can they do about it? Having acknowledged and identified their feelings with empathy means they have probably calmed down a bit, and will be in a better position to see a way forward. Gently encouraging them to think about the next step will empower them, reassuring them that they are capable of dealing with this effectively in their own way.
“It’s a horrible feeling knowing that you are going to miss a deadline. I am not surprised you are angry. Is there anything you can do about this right now? Ok, so it looks like you are going to have to face the music with your teacher and just whatever punishment she gives you for it. What can you do next time to make sure this doesn't happen again? Because it hasn't been fun has it?”
“I expect you feel heartbroken about this. I am so sorry you are feeling this way. It’s really hard isn't it? Where are you on the scale of 1= miserable, 10=deliriously happy? Is there one thing you can do to push yourself up one on the scale?”
“It’s really frustrating to have to stop playing your computer games-I get it. I bet you feel really angry with me right now. But you know, sometimes it’s OK to not like me, sometimes I have to put these boundaries in place to keep you safe. It would be great for you if I let you play non-stop all day but then how would you get any other stuff done? What else can you do now that isn't gaming, because time is up on that. Perhaps we could do something together?”
Taking the time to acknowledge their feelings is so important and is vital for effective communication.
Will this work?
Some of these responses might seem a bit cheesy. You might think they would never work with your teenager, and that may well be the case if you don't usually converse with your son or daughter in this way. But why not try them? Be transparent with your kid too if you like! Have a joke about the fact that you are trying a new parenting style, that you really do want them to feel like they are being heard and that their feelings matter. And if these methods don't work straightaway then play the long game and keep at it. This stuff can take time to adjust to if it’s not your usual way of managing challenging behaviour. Give you and your teen time to get used to it.
Try this method out the next time your teen is bubbling up over something. Allow them to feel all the feelings. Empower them to think about the next step they need to take to overcome it.
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