Striving for independence.
Navigating social circles, social acceptance, and social media.
Striving to maintain a relationship with your child.
Navigating parenting, setting your child up for success, and keeping your child safe.
“As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers, their need is to not need us. This conflict is real; we experience it daily as we help those we love become independent from us.”
-Dr. Haim G. Ginott
From 12 to 18 years of age, our teens are in Erick’s developmental stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion. During this stage, teens are exploring their independence and beginning to develop their sense of self. They begin to question and discover who they are. They begin to look at the world and figure out how they fit into it. They discover what makes them the same as their peers and what makes them unique. During this stage, they are discovering and trying new things to learn about themselves and how they fit in the world. You did the same.
Your life as a teen
I encourage you to think back to your life when you were a teenager. What did you feel as a teen? Do you cringe putting yourself back in your teenage years? Do you immediately go to the highs you experienced? Take a minute and think about the following.
What was great?
- Your friendships?
- Romantic relationships?
- Sense of independence?
- Lack of adult responsibility?
- New experiences?
- Relationship with your parents?
What are some things you didn’t like?
- Restrictions you had?
- Parents lack of understanding of you?
- Feeling lost?
- Social pressure?
- Feeling alone/unsupported?
- Romantic relationships?
When you think about the things you like or didn’t like as a teen, how does that affect your parenting now?
- Are you feeling worried about your child’s choices, attitudes, friendships?
- Are you finding yourself triggered by your children’s actions because of your experiences?
- Are you finding that you are using techniques you hated as a teen?
- Are you wanting new strategies in parenting your teen?
- Are you using the strategies that made you feel connected to your parents?
- Are you worried they are too old to change habits?
In parenting a teen, “there are no quick answers…you can’t protect them from all the dangers in today’s world…if you can create a climate in your home where your kids feel free to express their feelings, there is a good chance they’ll be more open to hearing your feelings. More willing to consider your adult perspective…”
-Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish in ‘How to Talk so Teens Will Listen & Listen so Teens will Talk’
What to do now?
You’ve thought about your teen years and your worries for your teen. Now you’re wondering what to do next? How do you facilitate a relationship with your teen that fosters connection, trust, and cooperation?
First and foremost, you listen for feelings.
Often times, as a parent, you want to fix. You don’t want to see your child in pain, hurting, or struggling. You want to help them fix what’s happening, so you add your adult perspective to the problem and tell them the solution. Inadvertently, in doing so, we also send the message to our teens that their feelings are not important or valid. So, how do we change this?
- Listen for the feelings in what they are communicating.
- Reflect the feelings they are sharing prior to looking for a solution
- Acknowledge what they are sharing, use nonverbal and verbal listening cues (such as nods, mhmms, yeah)
When you first listen for feelings and reflect back to our teens the feelings they are communicating, you send the message that you are understanding them and that you care about what they are saying. This doesn’t mean you are always ‘okay-ing’ the behavior, circumstance, language that is occurring. What you are doing is communicating to your child that you hear them. You understand what they are telling you. You can always go back and get your message across later. First, you want them to know you are listening to them and that you understand what they are communicating to you.
Second, we want to engage their cooperation.
I imagine as a parent you have experienced times where you feel like you are pulling teeth to get your teen to do what you are asking them to do. You ask and ask, then maybe causes your teen to lose their cool, then you lose your cool. Now everyone is in a mood, a fight, and nothing is getting done. How do we avoid this?
- Describe the problem
- In doing so, you invite your teen to be a part of the solution
- Give information
- Respectfully and simply give information about the circumstance. Teens are more likely to assume responsibility for what needs to be done.
- Offer a choice
- Cooperation is more likely to be achieved if you offer choices that meet their needs. You control the choices that way they meet your needs as well.
- Say it in a word
- Instead of a long explanation of what needs to be done, simply state a word to remind your teen to refocus their attention.
- Put in writing
- Write down the expectation – often writing can accomplish what spoken words cannot
You know your teen best. What strategies do you think they will connect with the most? It may take time to see the initial change or a change in response, your teen is likely not used to this form of communication. Keep trying.
Another goal is to work out problems together.
Parents have the best intentions to help their teen succeed. You have life experience, you want to help your teen not make the same mistakes you did. Sometimes, if we focus on the problem at hand, we can remove the teens creativity or self-motivation to solve a problem or come up with a solution. How do we foster in teens the confidence and ability to make decisions and come up with a solution? We can…
- Invite your teen to give their point of view
- You may know, or think you know, what is going on in your teens mind. Remain curious. Start the conversation with an open mind and ask them for their point of view.
- Follow up by stating your point of view
- Acknowledge what they said, reflect the feeling, make sure you understood them correctly. After all of that, state your point of view in an open manner and calm tone of voice.
- Invite your teen to brainstorm solutions
- Together, brainstorm solutions. Add both of your ideas to a sheet of paper/notes in your phone. You won’t like some of them (as your teen wont like all of your ideas) and that’s okay – add all the ideas to your list. This will show that you are hearing, wanting to understand, and work with your teen.
- Review your list
- Now, you cross off the ones that are totally not an option for you. Allow your teen to cross off items that are out of the option for them. What’s left? Is there middle ground you can both meet at?
In engaging in the manner above, we show our teens that we care about their point of view. We help them to develop problem solving skills. We aid them in developing confidence in their abilities to come up with solutions to a problem. We lessen the power struggles and fights between parents and teens when inviting our teens to become a part of the solution.
Life for a teenager now is vastly different from when you were a teenager and yet some of the struggles are still the same. Social pressure/acceptance is something all teens crave. Nowadays, social media, social connection, and contact is at a teenager’s fingertips. In an instant, they can be connected to a friend, a stranger, or almost any information they seek on the internet. The social pressure, ‘like-count’, views have become a part of teenagers’ identities. This is different, yet the base of acceptance is the same.
Teenagers are growing up in a culture that is meaner, cruder, ruder, more materialistic, sexualized, and even more violent than ever before. Information spreads faster than ever and everything is being caught on camera. As a parent, you want to protect your teens from the cruelty of other teens and the world in general. It feels like an uphill, losing battle and that is why building this foundation of connection with our teens is so important.
Facilitating a relationship of support, connection, and cooperation are foundational to being able to support your teen through the hardships this life is throwing at them. These foundations allow you to open up the hard discussions of sex, drugs, social media, and peer pressure in a way for your teen to truly understand your perspective and for you to understand your teen.
For more information on these topics and more, check out How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish talk you through these steps and more while giving you a parent’s perspective on trying these tools. Check it out here.
How a BPC Teen Therapist Can Help
Here at Brittani Persha Counseling, we want to support you and your teen through your journey of therapy. We hope that you can find someone that fits for you, and we can be here to support you through your counseling journey. We have a wonderful team of therapists that specialize across the lifespan and with a multitude of presenting problems. Our therapists are highly trained in their focus areas and are continually learning and expanding on therapeutic techniques to best help our clients. We would love to see if our practice has a therapeutic match for you.
About the Author
My name is Megan Griffith. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Associate at Brittani Persha Counseling. Personally. I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a therapist. I wanted to help others find their strengths, process hardships, and work towards their goals. After engaging in my own therapy, I realized just how powerful therapy is and it fueled my desire to pursue this career.
I graduated from Texas Tech University with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and minor in Communications. Afterwards, I attended the University of North Texas where I obtained my masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling where I specialized in Play and Adolescent Therapy. I currently see clients of all ages and presenting problems. I enjoy the different techniques that are utilized throughout the various ages. My primary focus is child and adolescent therapy. While working with children and teens, I will have parents join in on sessions or meet with parents individually to go over tools they can integrate into their home. I believe parents are an integrative piece to therapeutic success for children and teens.
I practice from an Adlerian standpoint meaning I see an individual from a holistic standpoint. I am curious to know and learn about their family roles and identities, goals of a client’s behavior, how a client fits into their social context, and provide psychoeducation regarding topics important to the client. I fully believe in the power of therapy and hope that you can experience the benefits from the safety and understanding in a unique therapeutic relationship.