When teens express overwhelming anxiety and frustration with life, adults (including many parents) automatically thinks that they are being dramatic. We seem to take for granted the daily struggles that they are up against at school, after-school, and in the community. Somehow, we expect them to figure it out because it is part of growing up. I have heard parents say - “I had it worse”- as if that fixes the situation that their child is currently dealing with. The idea that this generation of teenagers are spoiled brats who just want everything handed to them is nonsensical. Most teenagers want to do better if only we can support them and point them in the right direction. The situation is getting increasingly worse because many parents cannot fathom why the parenting strategies that worked on their 16 year old teen is no longer effective with their 11 year old tween.
New Flash: time have changed. Rather than coming up want several justifications for why you will not entertain your child’s “mushiness”, I encourage you to spend some time learning new tricks that can help that child succeed in life. I know, parents do not like change. You probably have enough moving parts in your life and you do not want further complications. Fortunately for you, the tricks that I am about to propose are not any more time consuming than what you are already doing with your child. The idea is to engage more effectively with your child without sacrificing your role as a parent.
Before you read any further, you should know that I am not the type of parent or Adolescent Behavioral Therapist that is afraid of calling BS when a teen is being “extra”. In the same token, I believe that teenagers still need affection and direction. They are still growing and parents should not treat teens as if they are supposed to figure it out on their own.
1. Listen and Acknowledge Feelings.
Acknowledging what and how your teenager is feeling require you to be in-tune with your own emotions. In other words, you need to check your attitude before you can empathize with what your child may be going through. Teens are really good at spotting fake adults, so you need to be genuine when you talk to them about their feelings. Rather than trying to insert your opinion into the conversation when your teenager talk to you, practice listening. Let them do all the talking without you being on your phone scrolling down Facebook. Look at them squarely rather than acting as if you are uninterested or bored. No eye rolling, please- and thank you. No yelling, this is counter-productive. Just listen. If you feel like you are unable to listen, acknowledge, and empathize at the moment when your teen wants to talk, kindly ask if the conversation can wait for a few minutes. This gives you some time to get your emotions and attitude in order while at the same time modeling a great self-control skill to your teen.
2. Talk about it.
One of the main problem that I have found working with teenagers and their parents is the parents' preference not to discuss uncomfortable topics like sex, sexuality, and emotions (especially with boys). Parents may have never explicitly told their teenager that conversations about sex are out of bounds, but they have implied it on several occasions based on their reactions to external scenarios. What ends up happening is that the teenager will withhold valuable information about his/her feelings from the parents to prevent perceived negative consequence. This implicit assumption create a hole in the emotional, behavioral, and social development of teenagers. You, the parent, are at a loss when there is a communication gap with your teen because you will not have access to what they are thinking. Communicating with your child during teenage years is crucial because it provides you with valuable opportunities to share accurate information thereby preventing societal misinformation. As the saying goes: if you don’t educate your child, the streets will do it for you. Keep this in mind the next time you shut your teenager down because they asked a question you are not comfortable answering.
3. Ditch the Scare Tactics.
The age of fear-mongering has passed. Try not to be like my mother who repeatedly told me that I will get pregnant if a boy touches me (literally). That was not sex education- that was a scare tactic. To be honest, it worked. Even after I took advanced biology classes in high school and learned how sex works, I still could not get my her words out of my mind. This kind of scare tactic is no longer effective in the 21st century where children have access to all kinds of informational mediums. It is important for parents to talk openly with both boys and girls without scaring them and without prejudice. As a parent, it is inherently detrimental for you to assume that your teenage boy does not need sex education simply because he is a boy. It is also unfair to cage a teenage girl in the house because you don’t want her to get pregnant. These sought of stereotypical mindset is counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve.
4. No Judging. If you are going to talk to your child, be ready for him/her to ask some crazy questions and/or make some snappy comments. There are many reasons why parents find it difficult to communicate with an open mind, but that is a discussion for another post. On this subject however, it is important that you keep an open mind because you will often need that to get through a good conversation with any teenager. Go into the conversation with the sole purpose of providing clarity and relieving their stress. Watch your tone of voice and your body language as nonverbal cues matter when you are trying to help your teenager.
Moreover, when talking with teenagers, it is easy to digress into interrogation based on a question they ask or a comment they made. Stay focus on your goal, which is to educate. Remember that this is the age of curiosity and not every comment will have an underlying context. If you must probe a question, do it at another time.
However you decide to parent, remember that your child is constantly looking to you for guidance and knowledge. Be a parent who provides love, clarity, and education not that who expects the child to magically figure it out. Be your child’s superhero as often as you can so that someone else will not take that role out of your hand.