As a parent, even though my oldest daughter is in her tweens, I believe that I’ve had my fair share of angst. But when I talk to moms & dads of teens, I often detect some appeasement as they nod while listening to my stories. While I’m getting glimpses of it now, can the teen stage be that trying and if so, are there measures we can take now to “lessen” some of the future horror?
In Part 1 of a 2 part series, I spoke with Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D., professional consultant on teen issues & contributing expert psychologist for Mode Lifestyle, to get some related questions answered.
Do you feel that we have somewhat of an understanding of who our children will become as teens, when they are young?
I believe that we start understanding our children’s temperamental style when they’re young. This does not mean that behavior, attitudes, and reactions cannot change. It simply means that you begin to know what your child’s unique style is from an early age. During the teens our children face an entirely new set of challenges, pressures, and an onslaught of hormonal changes. These factors impact them greatly. Often parents ask me what happened to their child and who is this stranger disguised as a teen. I reassure them by telling them that it is the same person simply “wearing a new set of clothes.”
How does a parent balance the communication vs space issue with their teen?
Teens need both space to decompress and to sort out their own feelings and time to talk to their parents. The answer’s complicated. Here are some ideas:
1. Be mindful of timing. If your child looks preoccupied or a bit distressed then pay attention to these non-verbals & let your teen know that you are available to talk when s/he is ready. You want to respectful of your teen. This goes a long way.
2. When your teens arrives home don’t crowd them with an endless list of questions. Be gentle. Make casual & relaxed conversations. A statement like “Come sit with me” is more likely to get teens to talk than “How was the test?” followed by “How much homework do you have?” & “when are you going to clean your room?”
3. Teens prefer indirect requests for information rather than direct requests. This gives them a feeling of having some control over the rate at which they disclose information. Try “Did you recommend the movie?’ rather than “did your date drive carefully?’ Teens will answer the indirect questions and then start to spill and tell you about the information that you really want to know.
4. Listen & stay calm when they are talking to you. There’s not a single teen who will continue a conversation with a parent who interrupts & loses emotional control.
5. As long as you feel connected to them give them the space that they seem to need. If, on the other hand, you feel that they have begun to isolate completely from friends and family then you may want to talk to them to see if they are facing any major stressors. Again, try to do this calmly and non-judgmentally. This is not easy but it is necessary.
How should a parent best handle the situation when their teen is becoming involved with a clearly “troubled” teen?
The first thing to do is to find out what your teen likes and values about the “troubled teen.” Even troubled teens have redeeming qualities. Remember you don’t want to criticize friends too harshly because teens take this very personally. Ask your teen what s/he gets out of the relationship. Your teen may secretly want help getting out of the relationship.
If you are concerned that the “troubled teen” is negatively influencing your teen then you must monitor the friendship & help your child phase it out. This won’t be easy and Yes your teen may get angry. Keep in mind that you must be able to tolerate your teen’s anger. Your main concern is their safety.
Remember, that you are their parent NOT their friend.