How to parent your teenager better in 3 steps...
It's flattering when someone mentions our child's likeness to us. Be it a physical feature, or an athletic ability...their kind ways, or free spirit...it's natural to feel a sense of pride and connection when someone randomly comments on specific similarities between you and your teen. Likely you have already noticed characteristics, physical or otherwise, between yourself and your son or daughter (or between your spouse and teen) over the years as well. I know certain facial expressions and mannerisms each of my boys make totally remind me of their dad.
But, what happens if you begin to see attributes or behavior in your adolescent that remind you of you [at their age] and it isn't so favorable? I know for me this triggers anxiety, I want to stop, or redirect my child from the (potentially unhealthy) behaviors and choices I made when I was young. This too is natural, and something to keep very present of mind, especially as kids progress through the teen years.
Here is a situation that totally triggered me last week...
Stopping by her room at bedtime, Mia said she had something to share with me. Because she was holding my phone, I knew it had to be social media related. My daughter then showed me a screen with a very short, totally innocent, back and forth exchange between she and a boy from school. Then she said, "I think he likes me."
Immediately my mouth went dry and my heart raced...
She said it in a way that was matter-of-fact, not in a way that would convey she cared one way or another about the idea.
Oh my God, she's not ready for this!
I'M NOT READY FOR THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And just as quickly, every unhealthy choice, misstep, and consequence I ever made with the opposite sex flooded my memory and I panicked at the thought of my daughter having anything other than a friendship with a boy...especially during middle school.
Lucky for me I have learned in thirty years of parenting that panicking is the LAST thing I should do at this moment.
Mia offered some additional information about the conversations they have had during ELA. It was during that time I mentally peeled myself the rest of the way off of her bedroom ceiling, and then shared with her it can be flattering to receive attention from a boy. I remind her how important friends of the opposite sex can be...there's a lot to learn from boys (even though she's got four brothers, they don't really count). I tell her dad and I agree anything other than friendships during middle school is something we won't endorse. But, once she is old enough to vote (just kidding), we can absolutely revisit the topic.
A little while later, as my husband and I were drifting off to sleep, I told him about our daughter and her classmate. I totally admit my fears about Mia making the same poor choices I did during her own adolescence. Looking back I know I said and did things against what I knew was right in order to gain popularity, or because I didn't know what to do in a specific situation so I just "went with it"....NOT making a choice is also making a choice. I remind Tom how incredibly important he is to Mia during this time in her life and how, even if he feels uncomfortable, I really need him to stay involved and continue to build a strong relationship with her. And, I would really like him to find a way to reiterate my statement about not dating in middle school.
I continue to talk to myself out loud (because at this point he was quietly snoring...not because he doesn't care, but because he had been awake since 4:30 a.m.), I reassure myself that Mia and I have really good communication (after all, she came to me with this information), and I am working everyday at having the kind of hard, awkward conversations that my parents didn't (or couldn't) even attempt, and that HER life is not MY life.
One of the most important things we can do as parents of tweens and teens is to pause when a situation that reminds us of ourselves, or one that triggers us, takes place.
When your child triggers you, be it in anger/frustration/anxiety/disappointment the first (and best) step to take is to PAUSE. Do not feel like you have to react immediately to an unkind word or action your teen may direct at you because you have taken something they've done or said too personally...or that you'll lose ground or respect with them if you don't make an impact immediately.
Yes, I know, it's hard to entertain this idea...especially if you are really feeling strongly...
Step 2 is to PONDER.
Pause, PONDER...what happened between the two of you just prior to the altercation or exchange? What attitude, mood, energy did you bring into the situation? Maybe traffic was bad, or you recently had an argument with your spouse that is still hanging over your head, or someone made a comment on Facebook that rubbed you the wrong way, or you had a shitty day at work....AND THEN PONDER what happened for your child immediately before the moment between the two of you occurred? What might they be feeling or bringing to the table?
Step 3 PRACTICE.
Practice responding instead of jumping into action. A response might sound like this, "it sounds like you are angry with me about losing your phone for the night, let's try and work through this." Or maybe try something radical, like a playful approach..."listen you think I like reminding you about doing your chores, HELL NO, I'd much rather be taking a nap in the hammock then bugging you about unloading the dishwasher."
I find when I am getting frustrated with my kids about their not listening or following through on something they need to get done, I will find a way to act silly enough that it gets them to move.
I know, that might sound weird, but it has worked for me! Playful parenting, right?
Does this 3-step process take time, YES! But we are less likely to inadvertently cause disconnection with our teenager if we take the time to think things through rather than yell, threaten, or hand out consequences as a reaction to words or actions we find personally challenging. Practice means we aren't going to be perfect, or get it right all the time.
And, if you find you've reacted harshly instead of responded to them, take the time and make the effort to tell your child this. Some parents may feel this makes them look weak or would mean they'd "lose points"...what it really does is allow your child to see that you are (a) human, (b) vulnerable, and (c) desire to make a connection with them.
Think about this statement for a moment...
When you reframe your child's behavior (or misbehavior as it may be) in those terms, it's easier to digest that what is going on at the surface, may not be what is really taking place between the two of you.
Take the time to dive past the surface spark of your relationship challenges to connect the dots about what's happening at a deeper level. At the end of the day we want to have strong life-long relationships with our kids, right?
Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences when you try this technique in your own home. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.