I use all the tools I can muster to get a teenager to talk to me… often after days of building a relationship and getting him to trust me.
Finally, I get him to open up about the issue that landed him in my office. Then I go through my little spiel about the one person in the world that really has his best interest at heart, and would go to the ends of the world and back for him.. his parents.
It’s tricky to pull off if you’re not aware, but responsible parents can maintain their influence on how teens think, and prevent negative influences. All too often though, the reply breaks my heart.
“Mr. Davis, you have NOOOOO idea. I can’t talk to my mother about this. It’s impossible to talk to my mother.”
So I get his permission to have a chat with Mommy or Daddy. And believe me.. that can sometimes take an entire session just to get that agreement. His fear is that my talking to his parents could make things worse for him at home. Sometimes I back down. Despite all my experience, that kid is more the expert at his own life than I can ever be.
Want to know what’s even worse?
Should You Be Your Child’s Best Friend?
So I call the parents. It’s almost always regular folk who love their children and really WOULD go to the end of the world for that teen. But somewhere in that conversation I may still have to resist the temptation to roll my eyes at the ceiling when they tell me, “Oh.. I have a good relationship with my child. He tells me everything.”
Those words call for even more time building the parents’ trust. But there’s an even bigger problem here.
As kids move closer to the teen years, it’s quite normal for them to start pushing all the boundaries again like they did back at age two. Only this time around, they have better communication skills, think faster, and are less likely to accept what they can’t reason out for themselves… just like us adults! Surprise Surprise.
And there is the rub! We spent all those years preparing them for adulthood, and just when it starts paying off, parents often freak out and forget that this “push-back” is normal and healthy. It’s what they had been working towards the whole time.
Out here in St. Maarten we say they start “smelling their piss.” I’m sure you have some other ways to refer to it in your area too. I wouldn’t mind hearing some of them in your comments.
I mean, what did you expect? That a thinking person won’t challenge you just because you’re their Mom or Dad? Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well-done for Christ sakes. It may be downright disrespectful, and you’ll have to correct it in smart ways. But inside yourself you should wear a smile. Your kid is maturing and actually using his brain.
But what we do instead is start reinforcing the wall between parent and teen. There’s already a natural wall there… or should be. There’s actually something wrong with a teen that feels comfortable sharing 100% of their lives with parents. Keeping some information for themselves is as normal for them as it was for you when YOU were a teen.
Why make that wall bigger if there are still some things you want them to bring to you for your guidance?
But you know where I’m going with this. We touched on it before.
The Myth Of One-Way Respect
Just test out these scenarios for yourself. In each one, you’re in a conversation with another adult. After each one, how would you be feeling?
- Scolding wall: Drat! This isn’t good. You’re on a shoestring budget. Still, getting a ticket didn’t even bother you that much. You know you’d been speeding. But there’s heat behind your ears and you feel the blood rushing to your head. Where does this cop get off shaking his finger in your face like that in front of your family… and screaming at you?
- Sarcasm/Know-it-all wall: Ok so he’s your older brother and everybody respects him. Half the neighborhood goes to him for advice, and so have you. He slowly closes his eyes, shakes his head, purses his lips and sighs. Then he says, “I–am–sickandtired of having to clean up your mess. Do I have to raise your children for you too? This is what happens when you don’t have the balls to discipline your own kids.”
- Interrupter/Perfectionist wall: “Where were you this time, Sue? In fact, you know what? Don’t answer that. We both know where you were, don’t we? Don’t even TRY and give me the same crap you gave me the last time you came in this late three years ago. I SAID I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT. Not a word of it…” You haven’t gotten in a whole sentence since he started. And it’s not your fault if he can’t hear the phone because he sleeps like a log! You’re the one that had to sleep in the car in the middle of nowhere. Now THIS?
And that’s just a small sample. How about people who start giving advice or try to convert you to their spiritual faith the minute you strike up a conversation with them?
Or that co-worker who only seems to know you exist when she has something for you to do? How does it feel when you try to say something… ANYTHING… to her, and all she does is blow you off or dismisses you as if you have nothing to say worth listening to?
It’s not so hard to see what’s lacking in all these cases is respect in both directions between two adults.
But when the disrespectful person is the adult, and the disrespected person is a child or teenager, I want it to strike you as strange how many of us can’t see it as disrespect any more. I mean, it’s such an obvious double-standard! For every wall I’ve just described, centuries-old parenting culture has made it normal to talk to kids in that fashion. It’s so normal that it became difficult to see how demeaning it feels to any human-being someone spits those words on.
Any child trained to be submissive while being disrespected, while being insulted, or while taking blows for 18 years, will struggle to walk with confidence and pride among peers after those 18 years.
I have a huge problem with it. Kids have an even bigger problem with it…and rightfully so. Do you also have a problem with it?
Tweet: Forcing kids to show one-way instead of mutual respect isn’t really respect. It’s “low self-esteem programming.” A child who cannot stand up for herself in this day and age is going to have some problems. Sure they’ll survive and even have a decent life. But they won’t become all they can be.
It’s time to change all that if the not-so-little people in our homes are really going to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Beyond The Walls: Mastering Communication
You’re going to have to work on it like any other skill. I’ve set a goal to keep working on my communication skills till the day after I pass. You should too. The pay-off is huge in all areas of life.
I like the 5-step Communication process from Dr. Michael Popkin of Active Parenting Publishers© In fact, I like it so much that I’ve made it second nature in my daily practice and private life.
Listening is an art. It’s a lot more than just letting the other person have their say.
It’s about being quiet inside your own mind. It’s about putting your own thoughts completely aside. It’s about trying to feel what the other person is feeling. It’s about putting the speaker inside yourself and seeing the world from the other side. It’s about reflecting the speaker’s meaning back to him in a way that brings clarity and insight.
It’s a skill you can finely hone to razor-sharpness if you make a habit of working on it each day.
2. Sift through for feelings
This is where you hit pay-dirt! Children and teens (and many adults) often don’t have a firm grasp of what they are feeling.. especially when those feelings are most intense. Sometimes they lack the words.
Your job is to listen with your eyes, ears and soul. Identify what your child is feeling, Find the accurate word for it, and feed it back to him to test out. If you were accurate, you’ve hit a communication home-run. This is where you break-through. This is where they start opening up. This is where you can sometimes literally see the tension leave their bodies as their shoulders relax and their sweet faces light up as if to say, “FINALLY! Someone gets how I feel.”
If you purchase any of our training programs, you’ll notice we practice this a lot. It’s highly effective in getting poor or failing relationships to start turning around–and I’m not talking just with children either.
3. Partnership for options and consequences
Too often we jump here before going through the other two steps first. In fact, that is the communication mistake we make most often. It’s also the mistake that plays havoc with relationships more often.
With listening and accurate feedback given, the rest is usually smooth sailing and fulfilling fun!
The only caution I want to add here is to NOT take over. You’re still just a guide.. a coach helping your child or teen sift through options. It’s great practice for problem-solving later-on when you won’t be around. Especially if it’s a teens you’re working with, you’ll want to leave the final decision up to them. Show confidence and high expectation for them to make their own correct decisions.
Encouragement is to a child what water is to a plant. It’s possible, but hard to give them too much. Nuff-said…I think.
Too often we are too busy and forget this part. Always check back to see how the decision went, then process the whole thing again if that’s what the situation calls for. Then continue to give encouragement and show confidence.
That’s it–just one of those things in life I’ve never regretted working on, and a little work goes a long way fast.
This little 5-step process is just an introduction. Look closely and you’ll recognize a high-level skill..the same one Counselors spend years perfecting.