Bonnie Connell, LMHC, LPC
Did your child used to tell you everything, and you sometimes wondered if they were even capable of being quiet, but now that they are a teen you're getting a lot more silence in your interactions? Are you feeling tension and "attitude" creeping into your relationship with your teen more and more frequently and wishing you could figure out how to reduce it? Are you wondering why your teen will sometimes start to open up to you, but then partway into the conversation, they suddenly have a mini-meltdown and storm off, leaving you in a cloud of dust? The reality is, they are going through their "Terrible Teens." It's not easy for you, and it's not easy for them. But there is always hope for a better relationship, and these 5 tips might just help you out.
1. Ratio of 5:1
For a strong, healthy relationship, there should be a ratio of five positive interactions for every one piece of negative feedback. This means we need to really focus on noticing opportunities to offer attention, show affection, offer praise, and acknowledge our teens in positive ways. They should be hearing more from us about what they do right then about what they do wrong. When we do this, they are much more likely talk to us and to respect limits and rules. Following this ratio has been shown to be a key tool for increasing desirable behaviors in teens, because they feel like their efforts matter and are noticed, which increases motivation. Teens, who tend to feel like they are being critiqued and scrutinized from every side already, really benefit from hearing us acknowledge the things that we appreciate about them or that they are doing right.
2. Redirect rude behavior
It’s easy to get pulled in to responding to rude behavior with sarcasm, exasperation, or lecturing. This is true especially if we feel like we have reminded our teen over and over, and they should know better by now. We sometimes fail to remember that underlying the rudeness is a child who is overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted, just from navigating the world on a daily basis with a brain that isn’t fully developed yet. Don’t take it personally, and keep it short and simple: “Can you try that again with respect?” This approach can diffuse tension, model the respect we are trying to teach, and lets your teen know that there is room for a second try at getting it right.
3. Refrain from giving too much advice
One thing that causes teens to stop confiding in their parents is feeling like their parents don’t listen to them. It’s not really that parents are ignoring or not paying attention to what their kids are saying, though. The problem is that parents are usually listening to respond rather than listening to understand. It’s natural to want to tell our kids not to worry, or to give them advice on how to fix the problem. Being too quick to respond this way downplays the emotions that your teen is trying to process. The best approach is to allow your child to express and really explore all of their thoughts and feelings and feel heard first. After being their sounding board and getting a handle on what they’re expressing, then you can help them to identify solutions and discuss the pros and cons of possible outcomes together.
4. Respect your teen’s point of view, even when you disagree
One way to reduce arguments is to always maintain an attitude of curiosity about why your teen thinks the way they do. Ask questions to help you learn what thoughts and experiences have shaped their point of view. Once you have a solid idea of where they are coming from, you can build and expand on it in constructive ways by introducing new ideas into their existing point of reference. If you notice, for instance, that they are basing their point of view on a false assumption, acknowledge the underlying belief that they feel is important and then ask how another aspect of the situation that they may have overlooked could possibly also be factored in. Think of it as having a dialogue rather than an argument. Remember, teens are very tuned in to whether or not adults are actually giving them credit for being able formulate complex opinions on their own, or just being patronizing.
5. Remember there is no perfect set of instructions
Nothing will work every time with every teen. Having realistic expectations helps you feel better and stay sane. Teens will be teens, and they will push your buttons, overreact, or inexplicably shut down. Your child is just going through their “terrible teens” and they aren’t good at regulating their emotions yet. With time and support, they will get there.
If you feel like there is chronic conflict in your relationship with your teen, or there is a bigger problem in your relationship and you need some assistance with repairing it, I can help! Give me call at (413) 825-9300 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's chat.