Some of the most frustrating parts of parenting teenagers are the misunderstandings and
miscommunications, or… when we don’t “get” them.
For example, no matter how many times you explain something, they miss what you mean. Or, when they talk and act in a way that seems completely reasonable in their own thinking, yet the inconsistencies are so obvious to us that it’s hard not to laugh (or cry).
If we could just “get” them, we could understand their (il)logic and communicate in their language. It would be so much easier to help them and prepare them for life both now and in adulthood.
An article in a local paper explained that teenagers aren’t intent on causing drama with their parents. In fact, they are scared, confused, unsure and even trying to protect their parents from the struggles they face.
It’s a good reminder that teenagers have a hard time sharing their feelings and ideas with their parents because they know our job is to parent them through advice, criticism, rules and limits. So they have a much easier time talking with their friends because their friends are facing the same issues. They aren’t trying to parent, and they are less critical and judgmental.
And their friends “get” them.
Here are 4 tips to “get” your teen and increase your opportunity to prepare them for life.
1) Listen Without “Parenting”
Having years more experience, wisdom and practice using our reasoning skills, we often “know” the best course our teen should take right away. Therefore, we offer advice or criticism and give our opinions without even really thinking about whether that’s what’s best for our children.
The teen years are all about preparing our child for adulthood. This means they need to learn how to make their own decisions, use their own reasoning skills and come up with their own thoughts, ideas and opinions about things.
If we hold our tongues even when we’re dying to give the answer, we give our teens a couple wonderful gifts. First, we allow them to develop their decision making abilities. Second, we provide a safe place that will invite them to share rather than giving them more incentive to shut down around us.
2) Step Into Their Shoes
It sounds obvious, but it’s not the first thing we think of when our teen doesn’t make sense or when we’re in the middle of a disagreement.
Take time to develop your understanding of what is going on inside your child’s head and suspend judgment in the process. Ask lots of questions and listen. Ponder what they say and the meaning and emotion behind the words. Pay attention to body language.
Remember that what may not seem like a big deal to you could feel like the weight of the world to them. What would it be like to feel the way they do?
In trying situations, most of us don’t want someone giving advice, criticism or opinions. We want someone to listen, understand and acknowledge us and our feelings.
3) Experience Yourself From Their Perspective
In addition to stepping into their shoes and trying to understand what they are experiencing, try to imagine how they are perceiving you, your words and your actions.
For example, if you’re teenager makes a comment about something that happened at school that sounds ridiculous to you and you say something offhand like, “that’s absurd, just get over it.” You’ve just responded and moved on. But what is your child’s experience? It was a big enough deal to share with you, yet you blew it off.
Moms are usually better than dads at this, but it helps to remind ourselves often to be empathetic with our children. We may feel we are easy to approach, safe, inviting and understanding. Does our child feel the same way?
4) Assume the Best
People tend to assume the worst about other people. If we receive a curt text or end to a phone call, we’re easily offended or angry at the way they treated us.
However, most of the time, people are not out to get us. Their actions are usually reasonable and understandable when we know the circumstances.
Our children usually are not out to get us. They don’t want to hurt us. They want our attention. They want our love. They want our affection. They want our understanding and acknowledgment.
Instead of reacting with negative assumptions, assume the best. Envision the reasonable thought process of the situation from your teenager’s perspective.
You may find later that your assumption was wrong, but wouldn’t it be more inviting, loving, affectionate, understanding and acknowledging to assume the best and recover than to have to recover from assuming the worst?
Bigger than “getting” our teens is preparing them for adulthood. The best environment to do that is one that is safe, loving, understanding and acknowledging. When we take steps like these to really “get” our teen, we move toward the kind of environment that can support, encourage and prepare our children for life.