Parenting the Teenage Brain Series, Part Three: What Works and What Doesn’t

Many parents struggle at times to connect with their teenage children. They sometimes find it difficult to get past the emotional highs and lows, the inconsistencies between what teens say and do, and the difficulty many teens have expressing their thoughts. Below are a list of common  strategies and their effectiveness.

Lecture

As many of you already know from personal experience, lecturing does not work. Due to the fact that we have been through many of their same experiences and come out on the other side, hopefully unscathed, we know we could save them some trouble if they would just listen to what we have to say. However, it is easy to see with the body language of disinterest that we have lost them when we use this tactic. Ever heard yourself say, “Are you listening?” The teen is skipping right past the frontal lobe response that would carefully take into consideration your wisdom and experience and heading straight to the emotional response that they are being controlled.

Guilt and Personal Attacks

Even though this is often a teen’s weapon of choice, it should not be mirrored back to them. It is our task to model reasonable, calm responses to emotional situations to help them adapt and take on that same behavior.

Communication

Regular conversations with teens make them feel valued, loved, supported, heard, and important. These skills often deteriorate during the teenage years, so by practicing them regularly with an adult, teens can regain and strengthen these abilities. Also, teens often misread emotions, both verbally and physically in body language. By communicating regularly with your teen, he or she can practice connecting words and gestures with their appropriate emotions. Some good general rules for communicating with your teen are:

  • to listen more than talk
  • use “I” statements rather than “you” statements
  • let your teen do the teaching at times
  • accept ideas that are different than your own
  • ask questions periodically to show interest
  • match your emotions (don’t try to compensate and be perky when your teen is depressed)
  • attempt to identify with your teen’s point of view
  • hold back advice unless asked
  • avoid generalizations
  • ask questions that require full responses, not yes or no answers.

Be a Source of Support

Teens, at times, make risky decisions and need to know that, while there are consequences, they will find support in their parents.

Encourage Autonomy

Allow your teens to think independently, even if it is independently of you! This will help them to do the same with peers when they need to.

Trust

Trust your teens and respect their space until they have given you reason not to, then discuss the reasoning behind your new rules as logical consequences, not unreasonable punishment.

Monitor Your Teen

Teens are still practicing responsible decision making. Find out who they are with, where they are going, what they plan to do, and when they will be back. Be sure to do the same yourself to model this skill for teens. They will better understand when you extend the same courtesy.

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