Parenting Teenagers:

Improve Your Relationship Through Communication

 

“We are made into people by our interactions.”

– Laura Lyles Reagan

 

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Raising Teenagers

Getting your teen back on track is key to their success, and the quality of your relationship will help them get there!

One of the key things I learned is that parents and kids hold different positions in the social order. Seems obvious, right? But there are profound implications that lie deeper. There is a natural power differential or inequality in the parent-child relationship. The difference in social location can be a barrier to real connection, especially if our focus is controlling behavior and not relating heart to heart.

I came to believe that every interaction counts towards creating the intimacy and respect we desire and the equity we need.

Throughout my career in youth development and child advocacy, I have seen the powerful, creative, people-making difference, conscious communication makes. It’s magic. The simple act of listening to a teen share the truth of their life can change the trajectory of that life for the better.

That’s why I emphasize learning the conscious communication skills that reflect the true messages of the heart in my parent coaching practice. Conscious communication not only changes the relationship dynamics between parent and teen, but it changes us as people.

Language communicates our value system. Change the way we communicate, and we can change the way we value youth. Valuing youth as equal co-creators in the family illuminates the path to a more equitable world.

“You’re watching your own child destroy all the good work you’ve done basically and I guess I just try and remain optimistic that he will come out the other side and get back on track again.”

 

“Just a Typical Teenager”: The Social Ecology of “Normal Adolescence”

Teens and Disrespectful Communication

Teens will shut down, make demands, whine, yell, or slam the door–whatever they feel is needed–if they feel like they don’t have control.

The key to getting respectful communication from your teen is giving it.

If you want tweens and teens to hear you and what you counsel, you must make the investment in time and energy to listen to them. Youth development research reveals that many at-risk behaviors can be prevented by having a positive relationship with a caring adult. Rather than bark orders, the first step is listening. You can actively listen to your teens which will help them open up to you. Then you can share how their communication makes you feel.

Active listening: Restatement of last word or phrase – Passive listening is simply hearing what your tween has to say without a response from the parent. Active listening involves reflecting back the feeling of what your child is communicating to you, like a type of conversational mirror. Tweens feel valued when adults actively listen to them.

When there is a natural pause in her conversation with me, I simply repeat the last few words of her last sentence. It may feel mechanical at first but it shows your tween/ teen that you are really listening to them and are trying to understand their meaning. Active listening also sends the message that you are interested in learning more.

Re-state or rephrase again to check meaning. Don’t assume understanding. Check it out. This step requires a little bravery because I risk rejection and if she is particularly hormonal or in a rebellious or angry mood, it can hurt. Being willing to check out my interpretation requires vulnerability.

Summarize – When the conversation starts winding down, summarize the essence of the conversation to confirm meaning and build trust. This may be the hardest part of active listening but, with practice, skills grow.

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What is Conscious Communication Anyway?

Conscious communication occurs when I am fully present emotionally and spiritually with my kids and my words reflect the awareness that I am responsible for my own thoughts, actions and feelings and they are responsible for their thoughts, actions and feelings.

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Conscious communication aligns with the awareness that I communicate cleanly without reacting to something from my past. Responding intentionally is the way to connect with our teenagers. It builds trustworthiness and demonstrates equity.

Conscious communication skills like affirmation, open-ended questions, and active listening invite trust and demonstrate how equality works. But, no one does this perfectly. Nor are we meant to do it perfectly. I believe our kids learn from how we emotionally regulate our thoughts, actions and feelings.

💬 Here’s a Sample Conversation That Puts the Steps of Conscious Communication Together:

1. “Tell me about Amy?”

-Mom

Conversation starter with an open-ended question

2. “She’s okay but she’s always with her new boyfriend Matt now. (Ashley rolls her eyes.) He’s cool but they're just so in to each other.”

-Ashley

3. “So, they're really into each other?”

-Mom

Active Listening

4. “Yeah, I feel like the third wheel on a lopsided tricycle. It sort of makes me mad.”

-Ashley

5. “You're angry because you feel left out?”

-Mom

Confirmation of Meaning

6.

Pause in the conversation. Mom resists the temptation to fill it with words…

7. “I guess I could go eat at Abbie and Maddy’s table."

-Ashley

8. "You feel left out because of how Amy and Matt relate to each other, especially at lunch. But you're willing to eat with other friends."

-Mom

Summarizing

9. "Yeah, but I really miss Amy."

-Ashley

10. "I know you miss your private time with Amy but I'm really proud of you for trying new things."

-Mom

Affirmation

11. "Thanks, Mom."

-Ashley

A multitude of studies have shown that teens still view their parents as their primary role models. Talking to your kids about school, healthy habits, peer pressure, sex, drugs, rock and roll as well as making positive choices is a lot to tackle during the tween and teen years. The simple practice of developing discussions with ✔ open-ended questions, ✔ active listening, and ✔ I-messages can be the key to the kind of communication that keeps our children safe.

And isn’t that what every parent wants?

If I want my teens to open up and talk to me, I have to value what they say, just as much if not more than what I say. That’s the secret to getting our teens to talk to us.

 

Communicating consciously shows the reflexive nature of communication — what my kids share is just as important as what I share.

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Homework Hassles, Education, and Online Learning

Communicating about school grades may be particularly problematic because of the heightened emotions of both teens and parents surrounding homework hassles.

In my coaching practice, parents rank homework hassles and communication as the top two parental struggles with their school-age children and teens. School performance is the responsibility of children and the role of the parent is to support the growth of the child.

I have the privilege of coaching parents of teens. I help parents and teens communicate heart to heart rather than defense mechanism to defense mechanism. One way to do this is the 3 Choice Process. It requires listening well, and asking your teen to share three possible solutions to the problem. Choose one. Take action and report back how it went.

Here are a few tips for using the three-choices support process:

  • Be sure not to over talk the solutions
  • Thank your teen for their willingness to try this.
  • Keep the communication flowing by reminding your teen that they may come up with a better solution later and you want to support them in following through.

What Using the 3 Choices Process Looks Like:

1. “I see you frustrated about your algebra grade. Would you like some help in thinking about some actions you can take? I want to help you if you do. We can think of three possible solutions and choose one."

-Parent

Some teens may not think of solutions because they feel stuck, angry or conflicted. Other teens may not have the ability to articulate possible solutions yet. Parents can make a few suggestions and ask them to choose the one they want to try.

The conversation might continue like this.

2. (Shrugs shoulders) "Ok, I guess I could study harder, but I don’t know what else."

-Teen

3. "I know you are frustrated and studying harder is one possible solution. But there are other options. Maybe you could talk to the teacher and ask if there is a study group or maybe we could get you a tutor."

-Parent

4.

The teen said generally they could study harder as the first solution and the parent offered two other solutions. The parent can summarize the options again.

5. "Ok, we have three possible options, 1) study harder; 2) ask the teacher if he has a study group; 3) get a tutor. Which one do you want to choose?"

-Parent

Note that the parent has communicated lovingly from the support role while the teen has the full responsibility to act and “solve the problem.”

Looking for more help getting your teen to do their online schoolwork, either because of the pandemic or because that was their college choice? Look no further! I’ve developed an Empowered Online Learner coaching program.

Click here to find out more about what an empowered online teenage learner needs!

Discipline, Chores, and Risky Behavior

It’s so easy to stress out and also stress our relationships. Let’s pause, breathe, center, and reflect on our parenting purpose.

Psychology says the purpose of parenting is to provide a healthy bond for the child and thereby, become the foundation to launch into the world. Sociology says, the purpose of parenting is to socialize children to societal norms. Religious traditions may say the purpose of parenting is something else entirely. These perspectives are worthy.

Conscious Parenting

In conscious parenting, we must get honest with ourselves and admit, the purpose of our parenting may have been a bit narcissistic. We may have an underlying belief that our child came to fulfill some deep need of our own, as parents. We reveal it when we are embarrassed if our kids aren’t well-behaved, or if they don’t make good grades. When our kids are kind, we take it as a personal compliment. As they grow, we may have a desire for our kids to go into the “right career” or marry the “right person.”

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Troubled Teen Use or Abuse

How we communicate the truth contributes to our teen’s ability to be resilient and not experiment with alcohol or drugs. But it is not the only factor in teen experimentation, nor is it the only factor in determining whether or not they will use or abuse alcohol or drugs. Asking why my teen has trouble with risky behavior related to chemicals is not a productive question.

A more valuable set of questions is:

a.) Are my messages to my teen clear?
b.) Where are they on the slippery slope of risky behavior?

You are not alone! Reach out.

More ways to get help:

If you suspect your teen is exhibiting risky behavior of any type, get help. If you grew up in a high stress alcoholic or addictive home, there are resources for you to consciously build authentic relationships with your teen that can change the trajectory of their lives.

✔ Therapy, chemical dependency counseling, conscious parenting coaching can all be wonderful resources to guide your family’s path to recovery. Reaching out for help and support can be so empowering.

One of the most successful programs of assistance may come in the form of 12-step groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is for those that admit they have a desire to stop drinking
Al-Anon is for families and friends of alcoholics,  There are even specialized groups for parents of teens with alcohol problems and there are specialized groups for adult children of alcoholics.

 You can research these websites and find groups near you or find online groups.

The Four Gifts Your Teenager Needs

Based on findings by the Boys & Girls Club of America and corroborated by other youth-serving organizations and professionals, these gifts foster teenagers’ good feelings about themselves and also their sense of social connectedness. Foster these four gifts and the odds zoom upward that your teenager will grow to become an emotionally healthy adult! Your teen should have a sense of:

🎀 Belonging

The first place we “fit” and are accepted is with our families. In our teen years, we can gain a further sense of belonging from our peer group, school or church group.

🎀 Influence

All children want their concerns to be heard with a responsive ear.  They want also to feel able to influence the decisions and actions of others. This begins in the family and then extends to other groups.

🎀 Usefulness

This is the feeling that youth have of contributing to others, providing a valued service or occupying an important role.

🎀 Competence

All youth need to explore their gifts and talents and feel that there is something they can do well.

As a parenting coach for parents of teens, sociologist, and author, I’ve never had a teen not open up to me to help get them from where they are to where they really want to be. If your teen isn’t listening, is rude or disrespectful, acts entitled, is engaging in risky behavior, suffering from bullying at school, or needs motivation and encouragement at school or towards their next life stage, please set up an appointment with me today so we can get your teen Back on Track. 

Sending Love,

Laura Lyles Reagan