As parents, we’re filled with a lot of anxiety about creating a good citizen of the world, of making sure they have social graces, are kind and behave well, are successful in school. Nowhere might this anxiety be felt as much as when they are teenagers, and we know we don’t have much time left to mold their beautiful little souls! So we might be correcting, evaluating, over-teaching, criticizing - all with good intention to launch a good kid.
But I think the most important goal of this stage is to talk and act in ways that keep them connected to you. Then, they’re going to turn to you when they need advice, and not just go to their friends, who don’t know much more than they do. Here are some thoughts on how to facilitate that connection.
Be available for the moments they do want to talk.
I read an article about Bill Murray on the concept of Alert and Available, and nowhere is this as applicable as with your teenager. Most of the way we cultivate connection is through the small moments of the day. Try to accept their bid for connection. Kids can tell our state of mind, and it’s hard with work and responsibilities. If they experience us as distracted or burdened, they won’t experience us as warm and receptive. You want to make them feel like they're more important to you than anything else. So, if you're working or going somewhere, remind them that you are reachable and available.
It’s still important to share how you feel when they start speaking to you in a rebellious, or angry way - still, accept the bid - and, rather than commenting on how they are speaking, stay calm and do what we call in Imago “paraphrase mirroring”.
So for instance, if your kid says “ I hate Melissa, I hope she moves away”. You might be tempted to say “we don’t talk that way in this family”. Instead, try saying “do you feel like she’s being mean to you?” This makes them feel safe sharing with you. When they reach out, even in not such a good way, and we respond with warmth and openness, this is how we create the building blocks of connection. They are testing us. They can’t help it. But if they keep experiencing us as a safe place to land, they will share more. Be interested and accepting.
Be sure to avoid negative parental judgments. Listen without correcting or judging, or using fear as a motivator. If you say things like “if you keep acting that way, no one is going to want to be around you”. These are hurtful, negative, and evaluating statements. It shames our kids and kills their self-esteem.
Revel in who they are.
Let them see in your eyes how happy you are that they are your kid - look at them when you talk to them. When they do things you like and appreciate, let them know.
Doing our work as parents means being able to behave in the ways that maintain a strong connection with our kids, even though we may be struggling on the inside with a feeling that is something quite different. We model what's right for them, so they can grow up and become good parents as well.
Every teenager has a growth spurt going on. They have a child part and an emerging adult. Often it is the child part that is showing up as they struggle with individuating. Stay positive, stay interested, keep trying. We can use the very things that are making us nuts to get closer. When you do just that, your kids will love staying connected. What could be better?!
Here are a few books you may want to reference on the subject:
- Who Stole My Child? Parenting through the Four Stages of Adolescence by Carl Pickhardt
Surviving Your Child's Adolescence: How to Understand, and Even Enjoy, the Rocky Road to Independence by Carl Pickhardt
If you need more help with talking to your teens, we're here to help. Check out our workshops, therapists, and facilitators!