Imagine, you are pulling a rubber-band with your hands. The intended target is across the room. You are ready and aimed to fire. To your surprise however, it slips from position and snaps right back at your face, leaving a nice big red mark across your nose. Ouch!
In reality, that is sometimes the very thing that happens to us parents when we pull too tight on our teens.
Most people have been hearing the term “Helicopter parent” in the past year or more. We hear stories of parents doing crazy things to keep an eye on their teen or publicly reprimanding them. In this day and age, I could understand the fears of some of those parents.
The statistics on teens regarding drugs, sexting, drinking, risk-taking behavior are staggering. Teens are confronted with peer pressure like never before and sadly, many succumb to that pressure. Parents are in panic mode, seeking or asking advice of other parents and watching television shows such as Dr. Phil. They are looking for any type of answer to help them out of their crisis.
What I have gathered throughout the years in talking with other parents is this – little is spent in listening or understanding their teen. So how can we keep those doors open without being condescending or in their face?
Analysts from the University of Pittsburgh, University of California, Berkeley and Harvard conducted brain scans on 32 teens and preteens. What they found: teens shut down after 30 seconds of hearing their parent speak. The verbal messages translate as negative to the teen.
It would certainly explain why teens stop listening when their parents are yelling at them to clean their room or do their chores. That’s not to say they shouldn’t clean their room or slack on their chores. It does show you how information being presented to them is crucial for a positive response. With a teen in crisis, those negative thoughts implode and explode, leaving the teen to react in a severe and negative way.
While hovering over a teen might seem okay when we are looking out for their protection – such as the teen showing suicidal tendencies, considering self-harm injury, etc.., we need to do it in a way that is non-threatening or evasive which could cause them to retreat even more into their own world.
This is where counseling is essential in order to understand your teen better. There were times in which I needed to have a sit-in during a session. It wasn’t because I wanted to know all the secrets. It was because I needed to know how to respond to my child when a crisis situation would arise. How can I as the parent, help my teen in their most critical period? With the help of a counselor, I can learn how to proceed in a way that will bring about benefits to the situation and to my teen.
Discernment was also a key. Many times my teen would act out on the simplest thing. In hindsight, I didn’t see what was really transpiring underneath and behind those actions or words. What I had come to learn is that no matter the agenda or action that was being produced, there was a driving force in those bad decisions.
I also discovered a pattern. Each time my teen was upset, angry, or distant, it was because of a deeper issue. I didn’t see it right away. As I connected the dots each time it happened, I was able to see the triggers or events that led up to that moment. Once I was able to make this connection, I was able to identify and work with the problem more effectively.
So how does a parent build communication with their teen? Here are some good questions to ask the next time your teen seems troubled.
1. Have you talked to a friend about this?
2. Is there someone you can confide in that would be a help to you?
3. Do you know of someone that can give good advice or has been through this situation?
4. Would you like to talk to someone about it?
5. Would you like to share how this is affecting you?
6. Is there anything I can do to help you?
Notice I didn’t ask the question – Can you tell me what is going on? Many times, teens won’t talk to their parents about their problems. They will pick their friends first, even if they aren’t the best kind of friend. By asking non-personal questions, it leaves the door open for the teen to share how they are feeling without divulging what the problem is. It is only with time and trust will a teen feel comfortable enough to share how they really feel with their parent.
Another important aspect in teen conversations – Don’t solve their problems unless they need your help. Your teen will never learn to make good decisions on their own if their parents do it for them. Making decisions is a part of life – good and bad decisions. You can encourage them by seeking out information, asking questions to someone who has experience in that area, etc…
Secondly, don’t compare your story with theirs. Different era and problems, different set of ideals and philosophy. It’s like a kaleidoscope. Each person who views it sees something different. Teens see life and problems differently than us.
As much as you want to help your teen in their problems, don’t. You can guide them and show them how to make good and wise decisions. But in the end, they need to learn how to make decisions that will be healthy and positive for them, not you. This is a skill that is learned as they age.
If you don’t allow your teen to make more decisions on their own, the rubber-band response will happen to you. Having a counselor involved will also make family issues easier to deal with. They are your mediator, helper, one who can guide conversations more effectively as well as keeping emotions more calm and balanced.
In the long run, it is a learning process for both the parent and the teen. Take it slow and ask God for wisdom and discernment along the way. He is faithful to answer every need.