The teenage years -- if I only had a quarter for every time I hear the phrase, "I feel like the child I know has been replaced by a stranger!" These years can be challenging. Your child is making more and more sense of the adult world; exploring his or her identity; testing limits and attempting to establish autonomy. And, as a parent, you may be experiencing the first feelings in the shift toward being the parent of a (blooming) adult (though still far in the future!).
Here are three ways to get you started getting through to your teen while reducing stress on yourself and your relationship with them.
1. Align and understand: When your teen is issuing their strongest resistance, take a deep breath and attempt to roll with it. This takes the form of expressing genuine understanding and not being ruffled by what they're throwing at you -- a tall task that's going to gain their attention and their trust to listen to what you have to say next. This might sound like, "Hmm. Yeah, you're not so much wanting to go to school right now. You feel like the teacher is boring and you just don't care. Is that right?" Give them a moment to register that you GET them (woah!). Then proceed with your parent-self. "When I have to do things I don't want to do, I feel the same way. And yet, there are things that we all just have to do, and it stinks. I wonder if you could put your notebooks together and go to school now, and later we could talk a little about what exactly it is you don't like, or what could make it feel better?"
2. Offer options: Your teen is insisting on having things their way. But you're just not 100% comfortable with that. Perhaps there are a few different scenarios that combine a version of what they're wanting with some tweaks and adjustments made to your liking. Such as:
"Ok I get that you want to take the car and go to Pete's house on your own tomorrow night. I want to let you do some of that, and I also am not sure I love all of it. So here's what I'm willing to compromise; we can talk about your pick once you think more about it:
1) I drive and pick you up from Pete's house myself, which I'm glad to do.
2) You can drive yourself, but I'd like to touch base with Pete's parents ahead of time to make sure they'll be home.
3) Everyone is welcome to come here for the evening.
Which would you prefer?"
3. Remind them what you love about them: Oh, but this can be a hard one when you're infuriated! But the teenage years are some of the most important to let your child know you're there, you're paying attention, you're listening AND despite some changes in how they're acting, you still love the person you see in front of you. Believe me. This approach will cause your teen to take pause, even if they don't show you this in the moment. They will ingest and consider your words. They will want to repel them. But they will know that your words come from a genuine place and this will bolster their thought process about how to come back around to you and open themselves up to you.
For example, after a fight, "I know sometimes you get frustrated because it seems like I'm nosing in your business or getting involved in ways you don't want. You're incredible at (insert skill here and provide example of how you see this), and you are a thoughtful person (or another trait, plus example of where you see that) and I just get scared sometimes that something might change or impact that person I love so much. That's why I can be so protective of you. I love you, and I need you to know that's what's underneath everything I do."
Some of this verbiage might sound familiar to you as a parent or it might feel foreign, and that's okay! This is the time you don't want to lose your teen to all the other pulls of life -- social, academic, and personal pressures start mounting and teens turn inward. It could be worth trying on something new.
Putting your best efforts forward at connecting with them in a caring and meaningful way won't cause them to turn around from slamming the door on you and instead give you a hug, but it will help to maintain that strong foundation in who they are as a person and in their anchored relationship with you among the many emotional and chemical changes they're experiencing... and all of that will support their ability to be productive, positive, and follow their moral compass even when you aren't around.
These three tips are a great starting point, but its not the whole toolbox, of course! If you need extra guidance or help making this shift together with your teen, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. We will work together to make an individualized plan to help you and your child know you're on the right path.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.