Four Strategies to Start Implementing Today to Achieve Better Communication with Your Teen
I get A LOT of calls from parents of adolescents who are confused, at the end of their rope and don’t know what else to try with their teens. Let’s get real. Being the parent of a teenager is H_A_R_D. Rest assured … YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
These calls from parents literally wanting to scream and rip their hair out gives me flashbacks from my teenage days. It wasn’t so long ago, believe it or not, when I, myself, was one of those complex, self-centered, and difficult to understand teenagers! In fact, if you were to ask my teenage self if I would be working with teens and parents in my professional career, I would have said something that included a few four-letter words! However, here I am … loving what I do. I think I love it so much because … I get it. I get why teens are the way they are. I get why they feel the way they do … and I get what’s going on in those complicated, messy brains of theirs! And now, as a LMHC, I really understand the science behind it. It’s so clear now. My hope in writing this is for you to gain some clarity on the WHY aspect (why is your teen acting so crazy these days?) – and help give you some tips to start implementing immediately that is sure to help turn your relationship around with your smart, sassy, moody, know-it-all – yet wonderfully amazing teen.
First thing’s first. The WHY …
It goes without saying that teenagers have many changes happening at once. As much as you don’t want to hear this, being a teen is probably more difficult for your teen than it is for you. There are three types of changes you will notice in your teen: physical changes, emotional changes and mental development.
Probably one of the harder things to accept (or deal with) as a teen are the physical changes. They are changing from children into young adults right before their eyes. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and weird – and like nothing they’ve ever had to experience before.
Although you can’t see it, which is why many argue it to be the most difficult change, the emotional changes your teen is going through is like riding the craziest roller coaster you’ve ever ridden; highest highs and lowest lows – and twists, turns and upside-down loops in between. It could even be considered torture in some ways. You can notice these changes by being aware of how your teen’s feelings toward themselves and others change.
The more exciting part, at least for me as a LMHC, is witnessing the mental development that takes place during these trying years. Their ability to reason is slowly growing and their brains are developing the skills they need to meet the adult responsibilities that are ahead of them. With that said (and this is where I’m going to get scientific), they have not fully developed their prefrontal cortex, which means they are relying on their amygdala to make decisions. The amygdala is associated with emotions, instinctive behavior and impulses. Is this starting to make more sense now?
Why can the teen years be so stressful for all involved?
In the big picture, these major changes are occurring pretty fast! Since they are no longer technically ‘children,’ but are also not yet adults, it is a very confusing time for them. That’s why most teens struggle with self-identity and are sometimes asking themselves important and normal questions such as … Who am I? How should I act? What is my role? What is my life going to look like as an adult? There are so many uncertainties and these wonderful teenage years tend to bring them to the surface.
What are some common teenage traits?
- Selfishness: As you most likely have already experienced, teens tend to be selfish and self-centered. During these years, the world revolves around them – and it’s all about them all-the-time.
- Criticism: Teens can be critical of others as well as themselves. How many negative comments have you received on your outfit or hair cut? Or better yet, on your parenting style! Or, how many times have you heard your teen say “I’m ugly” or my all-time worst saying … “I’m fat.”
- Rebellion: Most teens start to show rebellious behavior around this time because they need to figure out who they are and as part of that process, they may temporarily reject the lessons and values you have taught them – just like I did when I was a teen. I still feel sorry for the things I put my parents through … and one day, your teen will feel the same about you (even though I know that thought is really hard to believe right now).
- The need to fit in: On top of all of these lovely traits (I wish you could hear my sarcasm right now), is the fact that they are more interested in spending time with their friends than their family (and yes, that includes you). Teens feel the need to fit in with their friends and therefore, their friends’ opinions will matter more than yours. Just keep telling yourself one of my favorite mantras … “THIS TOO SHALL PASS!”
The most important thing to remember is the light that awaits you at the end of the teenage tunnel. When times get tough, it’s important to remember your main goal when deciding to have children in the first place: to raise independent, responsible adults (at least I assume that was your goal). When these sticky teenage years are behind you, you’ll be able to see all the valuable lessons you have taught your children. When they become full, functioning members of society who don’t suck all of the time, energy and resources from everyone they meet, you’ll pat yourself on the back and say, “good job.” And you’ll deserve it too.
And now … after you understand the WHY … here’s what you’ve been waiting for:
Tips to start implementing NOW:
“I Messages” (I know what you’re thinking … and it’s not what you think)
- 1. I feel (describe feeling)
- 2. When you (describe their behavior)
- 3. Because (explain why it makes you feel the way it does)
In a dialogue, I Messages are composed of three parts:
Let’s take an everyday example of your teen not answering your phone calls. A successful “I Message” would be to say …
“I feel so frustrated and worried when you ignore my calls because it makes me feel like you don’t care about me.” (See how I showed the three parts?)
Now compare that “I Message” to the following impulse reaction …
“You’re so selfish, I hate it when you ignore my calls”
Once you begin a statement such as the one above, you can kiss any chance of effectively communicating with your teen that day goodbye. And it will only snowball down a huge mountain of trouble. This reaction would instantly put your teen in defense mode. Instead, take ownership of your own feelings and how their behavior affected those feelings.
When used properly, I Messages can benefit your relationship with your teen in so many ways. This is my number one favorite thing to start implementing immediately because the process has amazing results.
Give your teen more RESPONSIBILITY (No, I’m not crazy!)
By giving your teen more responsibility, you are allowing them the freedom to make the right choice and earn more responsibility. This makes your teen feel valued and is a great way to build their self-esteem. Naturally, more self-esteem and self-respect means more respect for you. Who would have thought?
Agree to Disagree (Yes, I’m serious!)
You and your teen are thankfully not the same person. Therefore, you can’t expect to have the same thoughts and values. This is completely okay and normal! Successful people can manage to respect the fact that we are all entitled to our opinions and sometimes, we just need to agree to disagree!
Stop jumping to conclusions (Yes, you!)
It’s so easy to jump to conclusions. It’s natural. Teens typically have a hard time when given a new task or responsibility, which is completely okay! They are not supposed to know everything (even though they think they do). It is their job to mess up and learn from it. This is how growth occurs. However, during this growth, I can assure you that you’ll experience moments of anger. Things will make you mad. This will instantly springboard you into “fight or flight” mode. Then the blame game and judgmental comments begin and spiral out of control (taking you way down ‘trouble mountain’). Even if it takes every ounce of effort you have in your body, keep your cool and understand that your teen has made a mistake. Help them learn from their error by taking control of your emotions instead of jumping to the final conclusion. (Side note: this just inspired me to write a blog about taking control of your emotions, which is one of the most powerful tools someone can possess – so you can look forward to seeing that soon!)
With teens, remember that patience, mutual respect. encouragement and good communication is the key to success. The more you use these tools to communicate with your teen, the better your relationship will become. I know you probably don’t believe me right now, but chances are, your teen will make it through adolescence just fine. And … so will you!