Today Brave Minds invited Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC, the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT, to provide us with some tips for connecting with teens.
Having a teen can be tough. If I had a quarter for every time I heard, “Help! My child feels like she’s been replaced by an alien!” These years can be challenging, to say the least. And why is that? Your child is making more and more sense of the adult world; exploring his or her identity; testing limits and attempting to establish autonomy. As a parent, you may be experiencing the first feelings in the shift toward being the parent of a (blooming) adult (though this is still far in the future!)
These three tips can help you get on the same page as your teen, and even help you begin to connect and listen more effectively to each other. Better yet, by using these suggestions you can begin to get through to your child while also reducing the stress on yourself and on your relationship with them.
1. Align first. Then understand:
Your teen is issuing her strongest resistance. Take a deep breath, then attempt to roll with it. Rolling with resistance means not being ruffled as well as expressing genuine understanding. This can feel like a tall task but it is going to gain their attention and strengthen their trust to listen to what you have to say next. This might sound like, “Hmm. Yeah, you’re not so much wanting to go to school right now (ALIGN). You feel like the teacher is boring and you just don’t care. Is that right (UNDERSTAND)?” Give them a moment to register that you GET them (woah!). Then proceed with your parent-self. “When I have to do things I don’t want to do, I feel the same way. It’s a drag. And yet, there are things that we all just have to do. I wonder if you could put your notebooks together and go to school now, and later when you get home we could talk a little about what exactly it is you don’t like, or what could make it feel better?”
2. Offer options:
Your teen is insisting on having things their way. But you’re just not 100% comfortable with whatever that is. Find a few different scenarios that combine what they want with what you want. For example:
“Ok I get that you want to take the car and go to Pete’s house on your own tomorrow night (THEIR WANT). I want to let you do some of that, and I also am not sure I love all of it. So here’s what I’m willing to compromise; we can talk about your pick once you think more about it (WHAT YOU WANT):
1) I drive and pick you up from Pete’s house myself, which I’m glad to do.
2) You can drive yourself, but I’d like to touch base with Pete’s parents ahead of time to make sure they’ll be home.
3) Everyone is welcome to come here for the evening.
Which would you prefer?”
You’re standing firm on your boundaries – which is essential to raising any child; while letting them know those boundaries are supportive, safe, and well designed.
3. Remind them what you love about them:
Remember when they were four, or five, or eight, and you did lots of cuddling and nurturing and reminding them of all the things they were doing well? Your teen needs this now just as much as they did then. Oh, but this can be a hard one when you’re infuriated! But the teenage years are some of the most important to let your child know you’re there, you’re paying attention, and that you’re listening. Most importantly, they need to know that despite some changes in how they’re acting, you still hold unwavering love the person you see in front of you. Believe me. This approach will cause your teen to take pause, even if they don’t show you this in the moment. They will ingest and consider your words. And they will want to repel them. But they will know that your words come from a genuine place and this will bolster their thought process about how to come back around to you and open themselves up to you.
For example, after a fight, “I know sometimes you get frustrated because it seems like I’m nosing in your business or getting involved in ways you don’t want (RECOGNIZING THE PRESENT). You’re incredible at (insert skill here AND provide example of how you see this), and you are a thoughtful person (or another trait, plus example of where you see that) and I just get scared sometimes that something might change or impact that person I love so much. That’s why I can be so protective of you. I love you, and I need you to know that’s what’s underneath everything I do.”
Some of this verbiage might sound familiar to you as a parent or it might feel foreign, and that’s okay! This is the time you don’t want to lose your teen to all the other pulls of life. Your teen’s social, academic, and personal pressures are mounting. This is the time when teens turn inward. It could be worth trying on something new.
Putting your best efforts forward at connecting with your teen in a caring and meaningful way won’t necessarily make them stop midway from slamming the door on you and turn around to give you a hug instead… but it will help to maintain that strong foundation in who they are as a person and in their anchored relationship with you among the many emotional and chemical changes they’re experiencing… and all of that will support their ability to be productive, positive, and follow their moral compass even when you aren’t around. And that is exactly what you want.
While these three tips are a starting point, it’s not the whole toolbox, of course! If you need extra guidance or help in making this shift together with your teen, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. We will work together to make an individualized plan to help you and your child know you’re on the right path.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and by tele-therapy in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of “trying to do it all.” Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life.
Brave Minds Psychological Services helps children, teens and families overcome severe anxiety, stress, and painful experiences. We specialize in developing brave minded youth that can move forward despite fears and significant challenges. Call us for a free consultation: 908-242-3634.