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 the trustworthy adult. 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, this type of adult will
carefully listen to the young person’s logic. When we listen to our children,
they also have a chance to listen to themselves. Once they say what’s on their
mind, it’s a lot easier for them to listen to opposing views. When we refuse
to listen to their perspectives, we automatically lose their trust.
- 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 that we have to cope with an adult culture at
work, in our neighborhoods, and in our families. Typically, we complain to
them 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 who they can relate
to, and even their own spiritual understandings about life.
- 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,
imagine how differently you might listen to a teenager who is your niece or
nephew or the child of your good friend. Also consider whether your
“difficult” child possesses certain family traits which make them even more
difficult to deal with. If it’s hard to see or hear your child
accurately because they remind you of other family relationships, consider
having a Family Therapy session or two around this issue. Your relationship
with your child is a precious reward of life.
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 reality. Truth is not always pleasing. But by knowing the
truth, we can 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 learning by watching the way that we behave.
©Copyright, 2005, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Family Relations
Return to Table of Contents