Our kids make dramatic changes as they approach and enter their teen years. As their needs begin to change, our teen parenting skills need to adapt and keep up. You might think this transition should move along naturally, but the truth is that many people struggle with these changes. Adolescence signals, in a BIG way, the time to consider your attitude and update your approach. Your relationship with your teenager is the #1 most important factor in their future success.
STEP 1: If you have any left over desire to control your kids, it will surely begin to backfire as they reach adolescence. Now is the time to make sure your communication is free of coercion, manipulation, and hidden agendas. The winning attitude to adopt and consistently model for your budding teens is honesty and respect.
STEP 2: The teen parenting skill that most powerfully supports a respectful attitude is LISTENING, which will be a game changer to your relationship if you can succeed at it at least part of the time. As difficult as it is to transition from telling to listening, it’s critical to consciously make that shift. When your kids say such wild and unexpected things, I get it. It’s EXTREMELY difficult to zip it and listen.
STEP 3: In place of telling, ASK QUESTIONS – powerful questions that invite them to think further about how they feel, what they actually need or want in that moment, some thoughts about how they might get it, and questions that explore the possible consequences of those strategies and actions.
STEP 4: Practice gently bouncing the ball back in their court inviting them to continue. They don’t need answers from their parents UNLESS they ask for them. If they do, it’s helpful to be concise with comments that begin with phrases such as, “In my opinion” or “In my experience”. Allow them the freedom to feel around for the right solution. Asking questions that invite them to probe deeper is the most helpful.
STEP 5: What if you were able to listen so deeply that you were able to GET what they needed at that moment and then respond accordingly? Sometimes the words they’re saying don’t at all reveal what they really need at that moment. It’s possible that they just need to verbalize what’s going through their head to get clarity on something. Or they may need to get through a humiliating day or a something that upset them. Maybe they want validation for something they did earlier in the day. Your job is to listen for that underlying need and try to help them satisfy it.
STEP 6: When coercion and control are out the window, THE ART OF NEGOTIATION becomes your new friend. Instead of telling them what to feel or what action to take, you can share with them a time when you faced a similar dilemma or felt how they’re now feeling. Just keep yourself from hijacking their story. It’s THEIR moment. Effective negotiation is best achieved through respectful communication where each party understands the real needs of the other thereby opening the conversation to possible agreeable positions and action steps.
On those special occasions when your teens do open up and talk, set things aside, zip your lips, and listen with an attitude and corresponding body language of committed interest and curiosity. No matter what you are hearing, resist the temptation to interrupt with your answers and solutions, unless, OF COURSE, you believe their physical safety is threatened.
Your teen is in the process of sorting out how he/she feels about everything, and their brains are flexing new muscles, so to speak. When you are able to put your own agenda on the back burner, they have an opportunity to try things on, make safe mistakes, and discover their own best answers and solutions, guiding them toward a life they love.