I was shocked to hear my dad tell me, over a decade after I had made it out of adolescence, that both he and my mum had been afraid of me at times when I was a teenager. He said they felt helpless and powerless, often wondering what the best way to deal with me was. Now you might be wondering what kind of nightmare child I was, but the truth of it was that I was just a regular teen. I felt angry and didn’t know how to express it. I felt that nobody understood me and nobody ever would, and I often reacted in a way that did not encourage connection with those around me.
Do you feel like you and your teen are speaking different languages? Do you worry that you are growing further apart every day? Maybe you feel your teen is distant. Perhaps they are preoccupied and you would like to support them. Or you would like to play a bigger role in your teen’s life, or even just want to be able to have a conversation with them without it turning into an argument. If any of this resonates, these five tips will help get you started:
In every interaction, make connection the intention.
Sometimes we get locked in to “who is right and who is wrong” and want to make sure that we “win” a discussion or argument. We want to assert our authority as a parent and make sure it is clear who is in charge.
By changing our focus away from what our teen should or shouldn’t be doing and instead concentrating on understanding and connecting with them in the moment, we can straight away change the dynamic of any conversation.
Listen with the intent to understand, not reply.
Sometimes we just need to be present—clear our mind and be there 100% for our teen. Often when our kids are talking to us, in our head we are already formulating a reply and not really listening to what they are saying. This takes away from our connection to them in that moment as we are not really hearing them. Practice just listening—it’s as simple and as hard as that!
Find the right balance between autonomy and dependence.
While young adults are finding their voice and having opinions (about everything!), they are also living under your care and are supported by you in various ways. Although having clear boundaries is helpful, it is also beneficial to encourage their identity and creativity to shine. For example, being clear about the tidiness you would like in the house but allowing them total freedom to have their own room as they wish.
Don’t take it personally.
In heated moments—with doors slamming and your teen screaming “you never understand!” or even “I hate you!”–the one thing you need to remember is that this is primarily about them: their confusion, their difficulty controlling themselves, their undeveloped ability to recognize and express their emotions. Taking it personally hurts you, which is normal! A common reaction when we are hurt is either shutting down or lashing out, and this just worsens an already tough situation.
Instead try taking a deep breath, reminding yourself that your teen does, in fact, love you but can’t get in touch with that at the moment. Try hard to remember what it feels like to be a kid who is upset and over-reacting. With this in mind, think through how to respond calmly and constructively.
Look after yourself.
As parents (or teachers, mentors, coaches), we choose to give a lot of ourselves to others. It is paramount that in order to be able to really give to others, including our teenagers, we need to look after ourselves. It is impossible to really give from the heart if we are feeling tired, stressed, overwhelmed and burnt out.
Think about all the things that you feel happy doing, that relax you and help you to give to yourself. Make a list of at least ten things you really enjoy doing. Which one will you do today?