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Think about yourself. If someone isn’t a good listener, how likely are you to confide in them? Probably not very likely. Your teen needs to feel like you’ll listen to their questions or concerns respectfully and give them your undivided attention if you want them to come to you for anything. Try to just listen—no matter how hard it is to not jump in and give a lecture. Using psychology, if your teen knows that every time they’ve screwed up in the past (and trust me, they know), they come to you and they get that lecture or consequence (negative reinforcement), why would your highly intelligent young adult come to you in the future when they REALLY need your help and guidance? Answer: They won’t. I’ve seen teens and young adults in college go to extreme lengths to make sure their parents don’t find out about x, y, and z to avoid disapproval and punishment.
When it is time to respond to your teen, try to start with empathy. Repeat whatever they said to you back to them to show them that you’re hearing them and acknowledging their feelings. Then, carefully give advice or talk through how they can respond to whatever they’re talking to you about without judgment or negativity. Be receptive to if they’re listening but don’t get frustrated if they’re not. We want them to be able to figure out problems on their own using their own god given talents. If they’re not listening think of how you’re portraying yourself and what it was like when you were a teen. What would have made you more receptive to listening more to your parents?
I tell my parents to use the “Two-Sentence Rule.” Try and shorten “lecturing” to no longer than two sentences. If they’re not feeling heard or are wanting to figure out how to correct a problem they’re having on their own, this is about the length at which I see teenagers truly paying attention to what parents have to say. I see it every single day in my office where a parent goes off on a teen-perceived diatribe to their child only to get increasingly frustrated when their teen doesn’t elicit the response they’re looking for (if there is any response at all). The parent doesn’t feel listened to and the young adult regrets bringing it up in the first place creating more distance between the two. It’s my role to then help both individuals to learn how to effectively communicate with one another so that there is a mutual understanding of what the other person is saying. I know this is not easy as a parent and it will take a ton of practice but 90% of the problems I see in relationships between a teen and a parent is fixed with a small tweak in communication.
No matter how difficult this may be, especially if your teen has gotten themselves into trouble, do your absolute best to stay calm. Freaking out will do no one any good, and your teen probably won’t come back to you next time they’re in trouble.
Instead of immediately jumping into a protective parent mode, unless it’s an emergency that requires you to do so, stay calm, thank your teen for sharing with you and coming to you, and then respond accordingly. Sometimes this requires you to head to your happy place before responding, and that’s okay. As I said, parents are human too! If you blow up every now and then it’s okay but we don’t want this to be a common thing because of the aforementioned psychological impact of a teen opening up to a parent then receiving negative reinforcement.
Persistence is key!
Building a long-lasting, healthy relationship with your teen can be hard work, but it’s something that’s necessary. Make sure you’re both on the same page with your communication plan and do your best to be a role model. If you’re interested in guidance for your teen or consultation as a parent, please reach out to the experts at our counseling center for help. Missed part 1? Click here to catch up.
Travis McNulty is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of McNulty Counseling and Wellness whose office is located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, FL. Stressed out parents who have nowhere left to turn are his forte as he has worked with thousands of teens and their parents to improve communication while restoring loving and communicative relationships. He works with adolescents and young adults by implementing empirically supported cognitive behavioral therapy combined with humanistic psychology to promote balance in the lives of his clients from a holistic perspective. Providing parenting support, guiding communication changes and collaborating with parents by answering some of the most difficult questions that they face leaves them feeling assured that they’re doing the best job possible as parents. Travis and his team of expert clinicians are proud to work with local high schools including Shorecrest High School and St. Petersburg Catholic High School faculty and staff to regularly provide workshops for parents and students on topics related to positive holistic psychology. Call us today for a free consultation, 727-344-9867!