“You lose them when they become teenagers; you can only hope that the connection comes back after college!” Many of us have been told this as our child reaches the teen years. As a parent, you are told to manage your expectations. They say it will get worse before it gets better. We’re talking about the irritating eye rolls, groaning, lying, sarcasm, shouting back, resenting your advice, too much screen time, just to name a few…! This is the time when your patience as a parent will be tested and will reach its limits. Overall, the parent of a teenager is told to expect a rough ride.
But parents, it doesn’t to be this way.
Dr. Freud, one of the pioneering psychoanalysts, said that teen behaviours are in their developmental “program” as they seek to free themselves from childhood ties with parents, establish new identifications with peers, and find their own identities. They must make the successful transition from kids to young adults.
Teenagers of each generation need to experiment with different identities before settling into their own adult personality. As they establish their own identity, they go through the process of moving away from you, the parents. This can take the form of healthy teenage autonomy or manifest itself as blatant rebellion. Whatever form it takes, it is actually the teen’s “itch” for greater independence and his struggle for self-identity.
How should parents cope with this challenging period? Dr. Thomas Gordon, a multi-awarded psychologist, developed the Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) model which uses practical tools and skills from psychology and teaches parents to apply them to parent-child relationships. As applied to teens, below are some parenting tips based on P.E.T. and from Dr. Judy Willis of Psychology Today:
Don’t Let Their Behaviours Push You Away
Maintain the connection and be present. What you can’t do is to allow your teen’s behaviours to push you away. Tolerate restlessness, respect loneliness, and accept the discontent as part of the natural, but tumultuous, progression from child to adult. Let your child feel sure of your affection and respect. If you show that you respect and accept them, you will prevent a rupture that can occur in your relationship at a time when maintaining connections is vital to the years immediately ahead.
Don’t dictate a solution to their problems. It’s around the teen years when children stop asking the questions that were so abundant when they were younger. Actually, they stop asking questions when we ask about their day at school or their social events, because they perceive that we are not really listening. It is up to you to assure them that you are willing to talk, not just at them, but with them in a realistic manner.
Acknowledge Their Words and Feelings (Active Listening)
“Active Listening provides parents with a way of moving in and offering to help the child define the problem for herself, and starting up the process of problem-solving within the child,” according to Dr. Gordon. First wait until they are finished speaking and then, before responding, repeat back what you believe they said… without emotion or judgement in your tone. By repeating the gist of their statements you show you have listened well and you help them identify their feelings. Even if you don’t agree with her opinion or plans, you can keep communication open (and keep doors from slamming!) if you acknowledge and reflect your teen’s feelings about something even without agreeing with her point of view.
Be Direct And Don’t Manipulate
Because most parental criticisms cause anger and resentment, be direct and avoid sarcasm. Using the I-Message structure, say “Here’s how your behaviour affects me and how I feel as a result.” Everybody wants to be ‘the good guy’ – nobody wants to be the ‘bad guy’. I-Messages allow teenagers to initiate behaviour out of consideration for the needs of the parents. It works because they express how parents actually feel and why they feel that way. This revealing of yourself – being transparent and authentic – mobilises positive feelings in your teenager.
Choose Your Battles
Be flexible when you can, but be consistent with the limits you set. As an adult, a big part of your responsibility is to set standards and demonstrate values. Teenagers need to know what you respect and what you expect. They rely on parents to set limits, especially to contain their more reckless impulses. Don’t be frustrated when your child opposes your standards, resists your rules, and tests your limits. Part of developing one’s identity is testing limits.
No Lose Problem Solving Approach
Teens seek more privileges, freedom, money, or privacy from parents. Parents, in turn, worry about the possibility of failing grades, substance abuse, or increased sexual activity. Rather than let your anxieties force you to become overly restrictive, be flexible when you can. By giving teenagers choices, you make them more aware of their power and responsibility. When there is a conflict, try to jointly solve the problem with the genuine intent to satisfy the needs of both parent and teenager and not merely to assert your authority.
When you model the values you hope for in your children, respond with more positive and direct responses, and avoid sarcasm – you’ll be promoting their positivity and commendable values of their own. Teach your values by example, not by verbal persuasion or parental authority.
The key objective of all these tips and skills is to maintain a positive and warm relationship between the parents and the teenager where the teenager feels accepted and loved.