Lessons I’ve Heard from Teens for Parents with Kids of All Ages
I’ve been counselling children and parents for the last 17 years and there’s some common themes that I have heard over and over again from teens which are important for us all to be aware of, even if our child is a toddler.
My parents don’t listen to me…
Lesson #1: Every child wants to feel HEARD. We may think that we’re listening but we might not be as good a listeners as we thought we were.
Take the truly listening test…
Child: I’m nervous about starting a new school
Parent’s instinctual response: You’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about. You always make friends easily and do so well in school.
Now let’s take a closer look at this response…. your child says he/she’s worried and you respond that your child is fine and has nothing to worry about it = NOT LISTENING and then the parent goes on to be super positive in an attempt to make any discomfort go away = good intentions by the parent, but the child didn’t ask for a quick fix solution!
Result: Child no longer feels inclined to share uncomfortable feelings with parent.
Better response by parent: You’re feeling worried about starting a new school. I can understand that, I know I often feel nervous when I’m starting a new job.
Result: Child feels heard and then continues to talk about his/her feelings. (A child builds resilience by feeling the uncomfortable feelings and facing challenges.)
My parents don’t understand me…
Lesson #2: Every child wants to be UNDERSTOOD. We may think we’re being understanding but what would you do in this situation?
Child: I had a really bad day at school. My friends ditched me.
Parent’s instinctual response: Well, what did you do to make them want to ditch you?
Now let’s take a closer look at this response…your child is feeling bad and you respond by making the assumption that she/he is at fault = NOT UNDERSTANDING
Result: Child no longer feels open to discuss problems with you.
Better response by parent: Oh honey, it sounds like you had a really tough day.
Result: Child feels understood and then continues to talk about what happened.
My parents only love me when they think I’m being “successful”…
Lesson #3: Every child wants to be LOVED and ACCEPTED for who he/she is. We may think we love our child unconditionally, but often there is a conscious or unconscious agenda of goals for our children.
Child: I don’t want to play on the varsity basketball team anymore and I don’t know if I really want to go to university when I finish high school.
Parent’s instinctual response: You can’t quit basketball, you’re so good at it, and think about all the hours your Dad/Mom has spent volunteering as the coach. Of course, you want to go to university, you get really good marks and you can’t get a good job unless you go to university.
As we take a closer look at this response, we see that the parent is in panic mode. The parent responds with his/her idea of “success”.
Result: The child’s thoughts are confirmed – I’m only valued and loved when I’m making my parents happy by doing what they want. The child then pushes back and in an attempt to claim his/her own identity, drops out of everything that he/she thinks is important to the parents.
Better response by parent: You’re thinking that you’ve played enough competitive basketball and you don’t want to sign up again and you’re not sure that university is the path you want to take after high school. I wonder where your passions might take you?
Result: Child doesn’t feel pressured to be “successful”, as defined by his/her parents, and child hears that his/her parents are more focussed on supporting his/her passions vs. which elite university he/she can attend.
My parents aren’t really there for me…
Lesson #4: Every child wants to feel SUPPORTED by his/her parents. We may think we fully support our children but what about in situations where there is a conflict of values…
Child: (At 1 am) Mom/Dad can you come pick me up? I’ve drank a lot of beer and vodka and I feel really sick.
Parent’s instinctual response: I’ll be right there. (Once in the car…) Look at you, you’re drunk! How can you do this? You know you’re not allowed to take part in underage drinking. You are grounded for the whole month. I’m so disappointed and embarrassed by you.
As we take a closer look at this response, we see that the parent is so upset that his/her child has broken the family rules/values and the parent has immediately gone into punishment mode.
Result: Child gets sneaky, revengeful, shuts down, and never calls for help again, no matter how much trouble he/she is in.
Better response by parents: I’ll be right there. (Once in the car…) Honey, I’m so glad you called. You know you can always call wherever you are and whatever time it is. We’ll set up a bed on our bedroom floor for you, so we can hear if you’re vomiting, as we don’t want you to choke on your vomit.
Parent: (In the morning…) Hi Honey, how are you feeling?
Parent: You’re feeling terrible, yes I’m sure you are, you were really sick last night. As you know, we don’t condone underage drinking, but we also know that you are at the age where you will make your own choices. We trust you will figure this out and we do want you to be able to call us, no matter the situation. (Note: There is a better chance that the natural consequence of vomiting will motivate the child to make a better choice next time.)
Child: I’m so sorry Mom/Dad, I can see why you don’t think it’s a good idea for me to be drinking at this age. I really don’t want to do this again.
Parent: Honey, we love you always and we feel scared and worried if you’re out drinking alcohol because we know how dangerous it can be. We really hope that this experience has helped you see how risky drinking is.
Result: Yes your child may do it again, just as he/she would be more likely to do it again, if you grounded him/her. In the second scenario, your child hears that you believe in his/her capabilities to make good choices and knows that the responsibility is on him/her to be self-disciplined.
In summary, when our children are teenagers, we need to be their coach. If we try to control them, they will push back. If we don’t accept them for who they are, they will push back.
As always the key is connection, connection, connection. Find ways to connect with your child, and you will have a longer lasting more powerful influence than any kind of external punishment will ever give you.
PS. My first round of “Brain Science” camps for the summer has just started, and we are off to a great start. The kids are having lots of fun and learning life-skills for managing the negative self-talk that comes with anxiety and other tools. There’s still spaces available for the second round of “Brain Science” camps taking place on: July 25th, July 27th, August 3rd, August 8th, and August 10th. This group is for 10-12 year olds, but if there’s more interest for 9-11 year olds, then we will change the age to 9-11 year olds. To register online, please click here.
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