“How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish starts off with a quote that lays a foundation for understanding many of the communication problems parents have with their tweens and teens..
As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers, their need is not to need us.
You might want to read it a couple of times through and allow it to sink in. This “need” felt by teens is there because the developmental goal of adolescence is to become independent. Our goal, as parents, should be to get them there.
It is with this quote and these thoughts that we kicked off our conversation at the January 2019 Parenting Tweens and Teens Discussion Group. What we went on to discuss is that even with this knowledge, it can be hard to accept these changes in our teens, especially when they are packaged in eye rolls and distant communication.
What we found is, this book does a nice job validating the loss and fear many parents feel during these years.
Loss of the old, close relationship. (Who is this hostile person living in my home?)
Loss of confidence. (Why is he acting this way? Is it something I’ve done…or haven’t done?)
Loss of satisfaction of being needed. (“No, you don’t have to come. My friends will go with me.”)
Loss of the sense of ourselves as all powerful protectors who could keep our children safe from harm. (It’s past midnight. Where is she? What is she doing? Why isn’t she home yet?)
And even greater than our sense of loss was our fear. (How do we get our kids through these difficult years? How do we get ourselves through?)
The problem and what is important for parents to recognize is how these feelings left unchecked can cause us to act in ways that don’t serve us or our teens. When we operate out of sadness, anger, fear and other intense emotions, we don’t think clearly and we run the risk of jeopardizing the relationship we have with our tween or teen.
As a group, we talked about the importance of not reacting when emotions are running high. There is great value in recognizing these feelings in ourselves and waiting to address issues until we can better manage the conversation. We talked about how very little is a true emergency. We seldom “need” to address anything right away. It can feel like we do when emotions are running high but in most circumstances a delay is advised.
We talked about the value of listening to our tweens and teens, understanding their thoughts and feelings, and validating them. In doing this, it does not mean that we necessarily agree with them. It just tells them you respect them, they have been heard, and it increases the likelihood they will listen and seek to understand where you are coming from as a parent.
It really boils down to becoming more of your child’s “Coach” as they enter the teen years. This is quite different than what is required of us at other stages of development.
During the early years (1-7), we play the role of ‘Teacher.’ During this time, children accept what you say but are looking for inconsistencies. I can remember my son saying during these years, ‘They say the cow jumps over the moon but I have never seen it.” As a parent, starting this young, it becomes important for your actions to match your words.
When your child is roughly between the ages of 8-13, you play the role of ‘Facilitator.’ It is during this time that they start to notice families do things differently and it becomes important to talk about what your family values. Here, a child might notice their friend’s dad allows him/her to have a sip of beer or stay up later than he/she gets to. Your role is to talk about why you value what you do in your family. For example, ‘We don’t allow you to sip alcohol in our family because it can be harmful to a still developing brain.’
Between the ages of 14-21, you play the role of ‘Coach.’ Here, you are pretty much on the sidelines trying to provide guidance and keep their spirits up. You want to ensure they know how to make good decisions for themselves, on their own. This doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for their actions. Student athletes are held to codes of conduct and will be suspended from the team if they use alcohol or other drugs. And, so it is that parents should also hold their teens accountable for their actions and follow through with consequences when need be.
Those are the biggest concepts we discussed at the meeting but parents also walked away with the following key ideas:
- There are no magic words that apply to every teenager in every situation. However, the basic principle underlying every effective communication strategy is a respect for your teen. It is a parent’s respectful attitude and respectful language that make it possible for their teen to hear them and cooperate.
- How we handle the “ordinary, everyday small stuff’ lays the groundwork for handling the ‘big stuff.’ And, sometimes it is only that connection that can keep our teenagers safe.
- Sometimes it is best to communicate in writing.
- As parents, we need to shift our thinking from ‘how do I fix things?’ to ‘how do I enable my kids to fix things for themselves?’
- There are alternatives to punishment that will better motivate your teenager to behave responsibly and teach them to be self-correcting.
- Problems are best solved when you work them out with your teen, starting with hearing your teen’s feelings.
- It is important to validate a teen’s feelings. This doesn’t mean you agree with them. It just means you hear them.
- Parents are not perfect. When communication fails, it is a good idea to apologize and ask for a do-over.
- One time lectures about the harms associated with alcohol and other drug use are not effective. It is best to find small opportunities to get the conversation going. One of the best ways is to share a story you heard either in the media or through the grapevine, ask your teen what they think about it and then share your thoughts.
- When handling difficult conversations, it is important to consider the timing of the conversation. Are there siblings to consider? Should it remain private? When can you talk with the least amount of distractions?
- Keep your conversation goal in mind. This applies to little conversations and big ones.
- If your conversation is not going well, do not be afraid to call a mutual time out or simply tell your child you need to think things through before finishing your talk.
- The more you expect good, the better they will perform. Operate with the understanding that teens want to make good decisions for themselves. They just might need some help dong it.
If you would like to learn more about some methods of communication that can lead to more satisfying relationships between you and your tween or teen, you are encouraged to read this book. Both the Bloomington and Normal Public libraries have copies for checkout. If they happen to be checked out now, you can place a copy on hold or request they obtain one through an inter-library loan.