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Parenting Your Teenager: Are You the Guide or the Enemy?
“How was school today?”
“What did you do today?”
“How do you think you did on the test?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will you know?”
“Mom, will you stop bugging me?”
Many families I work with seem to struggle with communication with their teenagers.
This is developmentally normal to some extent. When children reach adolescence, it is normal for them to begin to withdraw from their parents and socialize more with their peers.
Teenagers usually see their parents as either an enemy or a guide to growing up. If you are the enemy, he will teach you to cheat and lie, which can lead to a long battle.
If they see you as a guide, you may not know everything that is going on with them, but they will be able to come to you with their problems and respect your authority. At least there will be an open door between you and them.
How do you know they consider you an enemy? Two ways. First, ask yourself, “Are they lying to me or trying to cheat me?”
Second, examine the way you talk to them. Let’s look at some examples of “hostile communication” vs. “guidance communication” To put them in an adult frame of reference, imagine how you would feel if your boss spoke to you in these two different ways.
Most hostile communication has to do with committing what is called “adulting.” think, act, understand and perceive the world as adults.
All of the following forms of hostile communication are adults:
Assuming. This is when you assume how your teen will behave and then act according to your assumptions. The problem is that it ignores teenagers’ ability to learn and grow.
To save and to explain. Rescue prevents them from experiencing the consequences of their behavior. Explaining prevents them from discovering the meaning of things for themselves. This is what can happen when a teenager says, “Stop treating me like a 2-year-old.”
Direction. Think about how you feel when your boss tells you how to do every little detail of a project that you already know how to do or can figure out on your own. What happens to your motivation and sense of responsibility?
Expectation. This is different from having reasonable expectations. Expectation is setting a standard too high and then criticizing anything that falls short of that standard.
Here are some examples of guide communication, the opposite of enemy communication:
Control. This means respecting the person enough to ask how they can understand the situation. It’s “What do you think you’ll need for the trip?”vs. “Now take this and that and don’t forget the next thing!”
Researching. We probe by asking questions like, “How did you understand when you were supposed to be home?”vs. “Do you know how late you are?” (Of course they do!) Gaining their understanding puts the responsibility on them and on you.
Encouraging/inviting. This sends an important message that we believe the child is valuable and intelligent. It’s “What do you think?”vs. “This is how you should believe and think.” Asking “What is your opinion?” can do wonders for self-esteem and communication.
It’s celebrated. This can simply be a record of progress. In our performance-driven society, it’s easy to focus only on huge accomplishments. Communication improves when we celebrate even small successes. This is “Good job, see what you can do” vs. “Why didn’t you do it?”
It is important to emphasize that parents are the ones who must be in charge. It is simply a matter of being in command in a way that builds barriers or in a way that builds bridges.
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