When it comes to parenting teens there are four cardinal sins we parents often commit. These are usually impulsive and emotional responses rather than well-thought-out strategies. Here they are: spur-of-the-moment problem discussions, nagging, insight transplants (lectures) and arguing.
Let’s take a look at each.
Spur-of-the-Moment Problem Discussions: When you become aware of a problem, you simply mention it to your teen, right? Wrong! What you are saying may be perfectly valid and not intended to cause trouble. The catch? The odds that your teen is also motivated to discuss this unpleasant subject right at the time are zero. In fact, spontaneous problem discussions almost always increase irritability and decrease cooperation. What to do instead? Make an appointment with your teen to talk.
Nagging: Behind nagging is a kind of psychotic parental delusion – the notion that repetition will make an idea or request sink in. If asking your teen 22 times to clean their room didn’t work, maybe the 23rd time will be the charm. Before opening your mouth, be sure what you want to talk about is important, and then set up a time with your teen.
Lectures (aka Insight Transplants): I often suggest to parents who are inclined to lecture that they open their eyes and closely examine the face of their teen during a one-sided "conversation." Is there a scowl or snicker there? Are the eyes rolling or is it the Great Stone Face? Many kids, instead of listening intently, are simply thinking, “When will this be over?”
Arguing – Arguing usually results in battle lines being firmly drawn. The whole point of the discussion becomes to win, and, if possible, to find some clever way of making your opponent look stupid. Don’t start or participate in a conversation that is going nowhere.
So what should you do to maintain a reasonably open and friendly relationship with your teen?
Here are four positive suggestions:
Sympathetic listening: Teens can sometimes say things that catch you off guard, such as, "This family is so boring." Some of these impromptu comments may be important and worth discussing. Instead of responding, "You're not so hot yourself," try using an opener such as “Oh?” or “Really?” to further the conversation. The two main goals of active or sympathetic listening are 1) gaining an understanding of what your teen is saying and thinking – even if you don’t agree – and 2) continually checking that you are getting their message right.
Talking About Yourself: Tell your kids something about you! Pay attention to two things before you plunge into self-revelation. First, there can be no hidden message or moral in your story. Second, pick something interesting—maybe about your colorful past history. Just relax and be spontaneous. Consider the possibility that sometimes your kids might be able to sympathetically listen to you.
Shared Fun! A few “rules” apply to having fun with a teen: Don’t discuss anything controversial, don’t take the whole family along, do something enjoyable on a regular basis, and avoid doing something your teen likes and you hate. Quick suggestion: Try a movie and a bite to eat afterward.
Positive Reinforcement: A sincere compliment is one of the best ways to improve a relationship. Keep praise short and business-like, be consistent, and focus on behavior, not personality.
Dr. Thomas Phelan is the author of 1-2-3 Magic Teen: Communicate, Connect, and Guide Your Teen to Adulthood (Sourcebooks 2016). For more information, visit www.123magic.com.