Teens – Wow! I know i’m not the first, or the only parent that’s fighting a daily battle for some decent conversation with my teen. I mean, it’s not like i’m asking that much – all i’m looking for is a little eye contact, those freakin’ headphones to come out for a while, and maybe more than just a mumble in reply! Sometimes i feel like i’d have more luck speaking to a photo of my kid…
Now, don’t get me wrong… my teen’s a fantastic kid. She works hard in school, she keeps her room looking ‘more-or-less’ decent and she loves helping out with all things ‘baby sister related’. She loving, and creative and sharp as a tack – which makes things really difficult for me sometimes. 🙂 The problem comes in if i ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do, or if we need to talk about a subject that she doesn’t want to talk about.
My fantastic daughter disappears, and a sullen, defiant teen appears in her place – not saying a word, just refusing to remove the headphones or make even the smallest bit of eye contact.
I know the defiance and annoying behavior is all part and parcel of raising a teen. The ‘eye-rolling’, the headphones glued to the ears, and the grunts and growls that seem to have replaced all those beautiful words we’ve taught them… Yes, it’s natural. It’s not the nicest phase, but we all go through it…
Teens act out in this way for many different reasons. Hormones, school stresses and normal family pressures all play a part.
- Sometimes a teen will try to purposely try to push his parents buttons (a biggie – we’ll talk more about this one in a bit)
- Sometimes they’re trying to manipulate their parent passive-aggressively
- Sometimes they’re feeling angry, but don’t know if they’re allowed to express their feelings
- Sometimes something that seems really small to an adult may seem a lot more important to a teen – the different point of view can cause underlying conflicts
- Sometimes a teen is looking for more attention – even negative attention is better than none (or what they may perceive as not enough) attention
Generally, a teen does not have much control in the house. Us adults, the parents decide pretty much everything, from the little things like tonight’s dinner choices, all the way up to the super important things like which high school the kids go to. As a teen gets older, they start looking for more independence, freedom and responsibility, so have someone else be in charge of all these things can be very frustrating. One way to ‘retaliate’ is by pushing your buttons when they get the chance. This is one area where your teen does have some power, and he knows it! After all, they’ve spent their whole life watching us, they know what’s going to make us mad.
The trick is to not engage in the a battle of wits with your child. If you wanted to have a conversation with your child about putting the dishes in the dishwasher, and then end up having a screaming match about his snotty attitude – you’ve lost. Those dishes are probably still going to be sitting on the counter in the morning, or you’re going to be packing them in yourself. If your teen is ignoring you so you decide to ignore her back to give her a taste of her own medicine – bad news, you’ve lost again. She’s just going to walk away saying, “Okay, that worked! I didn’t have to listen to the rules, and i didn’t have to do what Mom wanted me to do.”
Talking to teens is not easy. A teenagers’ first reaction (to a difficult situation) is normally to distance himself or to react explosively. Heck, sometimes that’s my first reaction too! Of course, that’s only going to cause more conflict.
The next time you need to chat to your teen and are looking for a little more just than the usual “Hmm…” in reply, why not give these 7 little things a go. Small changes that can make a huge difference…
1. The magic phrase…
Try to start every interaction with your teen with understanding. This may be difficult, because you and your teen probably have a different opinion on just about everything, but if you can show them them that you care about the things that they care about, they are more likely to open up and be receptive to what you’re saying in return. Yesterday, after dinner, instead of rinsing the dishes and packing them into the dishwasher (one of her usual daily chores), our daughter decided to sneak off to go draw, something that she’s really passionate about. I decided to try the magic phrase with her. I said, “I understand that you want to finish your drawing. It’s really coming along great. I love how dedicated you are to your art. I also know you have a responsibility to load the dishwasher. Do you want some help coming up with a good way to manage your time tonight?”
It’s important not to use the word ‘but’ after you’ve said you understand. All that that does is disqualify everything that you’ve just said. Put yourself in your child’s shoes, and tell them what you need them to hear, in a way that will make them want to listen.
2. Stay cool
A teen’s behavior can be terrible, strange and frustrating. This is probably because they do not yet have all the skills needed to react rationally or make the best choices. A teen is still growing, still learning, and getting mad at your child for being his young self, or getting mad at yourself for getting mad, is not going to do anyone any good. Relax. It’s nothing personal. Those daggers shooting out your teenage daughter’s eyes do not really mean that she hates you, and that “Urghh, Mom!” is not a be-all-end-all statement on your level of stupidity. They will outgrow it – we did…
3. Get your teen involved in the solution (and taking responsibility for the problem)
Include your teen in the process of finding solutions to problems by asking him about his ideas and opinions. Be encouraging and show your teen that you believe in him and his abilities. Instead of asking loaded questions that can be hurtful and create even more tension (“How can you still be sitting here? Are you too lazy to do what i asked you to do?”), ask questions that can help find a solution (“Do you have any ideas for increasing your energy? I’m sure that with a little practice you can nail this thing in no time!”). Ask your teen to think critically about each of his options, so that he can make the best decision in the end, but let your teen make the decision. Show him that his problems are his own to fix. You are there to guide and encourage him, but the natural consequences of his behavior are going to be his to deal with. This way, your teen learns to think for himself, and takes (some) control over his own world. He will feel less powerless, and there will be less of a need to rebel, and push buttons to feel like he has some power.
4. Ask for their perspective (Teen friendly version of Playback)
Get your child to tell you what they’ve heard. You could try asking, “What did you hear me say? I’d like to hear it from your perspective. Do you have any comments, any other responses?”. The most important thing is to make sure that you do this in a neutral, matter of fact way – you don’t want to come across as ‘having a dig’, you just want to make sure that your teen is fully engaged.
5. Don’t debate the rules
If you argue with a teen about the rules, it leads her to believe the rules are negotiable. If your trying to discuss the rules, and your daughter tries to argue a point (13 year old girls are great at finding the smallest points to argue, aren’t they!) don’t engage! Stay focused on your expectations, and leave your teen’s ideas on ‘what’s fair’ and ‘what totally blows’ for discussion some other time. Stick with the facts, and try something like this, “I know you don’t like these rules, and you’d prefer to not have to follow them or listen to me. The truth is, the rules are not there to be ‘liked’ – you just need to find a way to stick to them.”.
6. Don’t get into ‘lecture mode’
A lecture often comes across as condescending or repetitive, and is usually delivered with a vague net of abstracts all loosely tied together. Teens do not really know how to process an abstract theory, and an upset teen will not absorb a lesson that is handed to them in terms that they cannot understand. Teens tend to switch off when they think a lecture is coming, so try to find a different way of saying things. If you’ve said the same thing many times, over and over and your child always tunes you out, chances are, if you say it again, you’re just going to get the same result. In the same breath, if you do the same thing over and over, you’re likely going to get the same response over and over. So say it differently and set it up it differently. Keep things simple, and clear. Instead of launching off into a 5 minute speech on the value of sticking to one’s commitments, and how ‘not studying for tomorrow’s exam could impact your teen’s whole life’ you could try saying, “What are you supposed to be doing right now?”. Your child might answer, “Studying” and all you’d need to say is, “Okay then, please go do it.”.
7. Control your response
There are going to be times where things get out of hand… Screaming, door slamming, the dreaded “I hate you!”… You don’t have to fight back or allow your teen to continue a one-sided brawl either. Sometimes, a few simple sentences are perfect. “That’s not okay. We don’t speak to each other like that. The rules don’t change just because you’re upset or yelling at me.”. Sometimes, taking a breath and walking away is the best thing. That’s your call. After all, we’re only human, and a breather might be what’s best for everyone. When everyone’s emotions have cooled down, then sit down and talk it out. It’s never a good idea to bring up a difficult subject or try to resolve a conflict in the heat of the moment – someone is bound to say something they regret, and the damage done is going to be a whole lot worse.
Parenting a teen can be one of the toughest jobs in the world. Those little buggers 😉 can be so hard to read… teaching your teen to listen and communicate properly is not easy (hey – didn’t we already teach them this anyway when they were toddlers! 🙂 ), but the rewards are well worth the effort. With a little practice, your teen will be able to look at herself honestly, take responsibility for her actions, and be well on the way to communicating with people in a healthy, non-aggressive, non passive-aggressive way.
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