It is incredibly difficult to be a teenager and parenting one is no easier. They reached for us as they learned to walk and now they’re reaching for our keys as they learn to drive. They have sprouted inches of height and hair and start to look more like adults, as such, we have a tendency to want to treat them that way. We expect them to “know better” and be more responsible when they’re walking around without a fully developed frontal lobe.
I don’t know about you, but I may have had a moment or two where I wanted to say, “You’re too young to..” or “This is a small part of your life..” One of the beautiful things about age is the grace of perspective. We know it’s a small blip on their timeline, we know that there are things we wished we had waited to do until we were older. How do you continue to cultivate the parent-teen relationship without using the same stale dialogue our parents didn’t win us over with? I don’t have the answers but I do have some tried and true tips.
Don’t just tell them how to fix it.
Sometimes, you need to put a voice your issue, you just want to be heard. Same with our big kids. When your teenager tells you that someone isn’t behaving the way they should or that they are having trouble, we logically want to help them. Instead of jumping right into problem-solver mode, try asking how they want to be supported. Do they want to be heard, do they want help brainstorming, or do they really need mom to step in?
Don’t tell them how you did it.
One of the ways we feel like we are being empathetic is by sharing a tale of how we have also struggled with something. Unfortunately, especially with the teen brain, it can come across as refocusing the conversation on your experience or telling them how they should handle it. Offer reassurance that they are not alone and let them know that you have been there if they want to hear an experience.
Listen and try not to react with judgment no matter what they say. Saying that something is interesting or sounds frustrating are my go-to responses. That lets me respond and wait for more information. On more than one occasion one of the teenagers has shown me artwork, told me something they did, or something they saw, and my mom brain recoils and sets all alarms to DEFCON 1. I try to ask for more information and seek to understand why they’re trying to melt my brain. Ask more questions, my go-to, when I feel out of my depth, is, “Can you tell me more about this?”
Do write things down.
At the beginning of this, I mentioned perspective. Try to think back to all of the things that seemed important to you as a teenager those things probably aren’t as important to you now, right? Keep that in mind when your kid tells you something that you’re not sure what the fuss is. Jot that shit down however you will remember it. When they inevitably bring the subject up again, you can illustrate that you do care by remembering it.
Do be real.
You’ll know when something absolutely needs to be taken care of or when another adult(s) need to get involved. Priority number one is keeping your kid safe. Thank them for trusting you and explain why you think an intervention is needed.
What if you did overreact? Apologize. You’re human and being able to offer them the knowledge that you don’t always know the right thing to do or say will let them know that you value the relationship more than being infallible.