Talking to Your Teen

Psychologist Michael Friedrichs, PhD, joined us to talk about ways to get your teen to talk:

Parents have two jobs – to give their kids roots & wings.  Kids have one job - to become a self-sustaining person.   These drives can come into conflict.  Roots come naturally.  Families have culture just like nations do:   Foods, Traditions, Language and Religion.  Your family is a tribe.  We would EXPECT a teen to be just like you.   You share 50% of DNA.  Left to their own devices they’ll pick friends that you would like.  If this goes badly, it’s usually the fault of the parent, not the child.

Like baby birds, kids naturally want to fly.  My three year old will walk 1,000 feet ahead of me at the mall before he looks to see if I’m following.  We’re hoping that by the time he’s 18 he feels comfortable with 1,000 MILES.  Whether this happens or not will have a lot to do with how I react to his budding dreams.  In psychology we call this Transactional Analysis.  Picture a teeter totter with the parent on top, all communication has been flowing downhill.  As in the evolution of democracy, those in power need to invite those who are not – Eventually teenagers will REBEL it if you don’t give it freely.  Parents have to make some effort to level that teeter totter.
Yet parents hang on, feeling as if they are still shaping their children’s behavior.  What they don’t know is that after age 12, the amount of variance in a child’s behavior due to parenting is somewhere around 6%!   When it comes to teenagers, parents need to choose their battles carefully.  If not they risk ruining those relationships they worked for years to build.

So how do you give them the freedom they crave? We recommend a GRADUATED approach.  Give them the responsibility they can handle. Also, considering that teens are essentially making a jail break, don’t disrespect them by saying, “Because I said so.”  That’s about dumbest thing you can say to a child of any age.  They deserve a reason for your decisions.

Here are some ways to approach your teen in a conversation:

  • First, studies have shown that NOBODY receives criticism well.  The least you can do is make it constructive by not being biting or rude.
  • Second, as we said before, changing the basic attitude about POWER helps a lot. 
  • Third, you must be real, and not fake.  Teens can smell deception.  Above all, they hate hypocrisy.

I advise that parents, without being obvious, use that old reporter model to guide conversations:  “Who, What, When, Where, How?” 
You might ask, “WHO else went to the concert?  WHAT didn’t you like about it?  WHEN did your friends leave?  WHERE did you go after?”  Most importantly, “HOW did you decide to leave?”  You may just find out that there was peer pressure involved.  Again, be careful to CARE about the answer.  “How do you feel about your day?” is different from “How was your day?” which is rehearsed, boring, and shows a lack of interest .  Remember, teens can sense your lack of interest. ALSO, notice I didn’t ask “Why?”   The “why” question makes people defensive.   For example, don’t ask, “Why didn’t you pick Jacob over Edward?”

Take steps to reduce their anxiety, don’t make it worse.  If you’ll recall, being a teen is about anxiety management.  The best preparation is rehearsal:   For example, you might ask “Would you like to practice saying ‘no’ to your friend?” rather than rushing in to punish them. Also, INVITE THEM TO FEEL GOOD.  For example, “Do you need a hug?”  “Can I take you to the mall?”  “Would you like some privacy right now?”  then accept their answers.

For more information on Dr. Friedrichs, visit his website.

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