From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Talking with teens
It is not unusual for parent-child relationships to become strained
during the teenage years. These are the years when kids need to develop their
own identity. As a part of normal development, children either experiment with
different ways of being in the world or they settle for identities assigned to
them. Settling for an assigned identity is another word for becoming a “people
pleaser”. Parents and siblings should feel honored to be part of this
trial-and-error experimentation because you represent the trusted family circle.
Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
- Are you a
trustworthy adult? The highest
compliments are paid to trustworthy adults. Contrary to popular myth,
trustworthy adults do not always agree with teenagers, but they can
influence even the most headstrong of kids with just a few words. The
difference is that trustworthy adults usually do most of the listening.
They teach through their own consistent actions and give feedback based upon
the same code of ethics to which they hold themselves accountable.
- You can’t listen
and talk at the same time. Rather than exercising influence through criticism, adults are well
advised to carefully listen to the young person’s logic. When we listen to
our children, they also have a chance to listen to themselves. Once kids say
what’s on their mind and know that you are listening, it’s a lot easier for
them to listen to your opposing views. But when we refuse to listen to their
perspectives, we automatically lose their trust. This is true in all sorts
of relationships… not just with your kids.
- Develop an
interest in the culture of your child. Your children participate in their youth culture on a daily
basis. Only the rare adult is privy to understanding that culture. Usually
we expect children to appreciate the adult culture that we have to
cope with at work, in our neighborhoods, and in our families. We complain a
lot about our stress, but ignore the fact that each day they face their own
stressors. Kids choose their friends for very specific reasons. They also
have strong feelings about the music they like, the teachers they can relate
to, and even their own spiritual understandings about life. There is always
a lot to learn from and about our kids.
- Remember your own
experiences as a teenager. If
you view your child’s adolescence as a battleground, try to remember that
for them, it is also a minefield which they are trying to successfully
navigate. Recall the adults who you trusted during the difficult years when
you were a kid. What qualities did they possess?
- Try this exercise.
To gain objectivity with your own child, imagine how differently you might
listen to a teenager who is your niece, a nephew or the child of your good
friend. Also consider whether your child possesses certain family traits
which make them even more difficult to deal with. Sometimes it’s hard to
see or hear your child accurately because they remind you of other
family relationships. Your
relationship with your child is a precious reward of life; it is never too
late to try to improve it.
In the movie, Bringing Down the House, Steve Martin demonstrates a
breakthrough in communication with his teenage daughter after she is rescued
from a wild party by trusted adult, Queen Latifah. He learns that by
listening without being judgmental, even he can become a trusted parent, privy
to the truth about his daughter’s life as an adolescent. As the Dad, Martin
doesn’t pretend it will be easy to hear the truth about his daughter’s social
life. The truth is not always pleasing. But by knowing the truth, we avoid being
left in the dark. Perhaps the best
way to protect your children is by learning how to listen to them, and
remembering that they are always watching and learning by the way that we
©Copyright, 2009, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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