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Parenting Teens Requires Putting Things in the Right Perspective

Recognizing, validating each other’s experiences is a necessary step

My therapy work with teens and families often has one overwhelmingly consistent similarity: differences in perspectives. Both parents and teens want their voices to be heard, appreciated and taken seriously. Yet, both parties believe the other is incorrect or not being fair. These factors can lead to breakdowns in communication and in relationships. So, let’s take a look at situations in which this occurs.

In one session filled with hurt and trauma, a teen told her mom that she hoped she could inflict the emotional pain upon her mom that her mom had previously placed upon her. In another session, a teen told her dad that their relationship would never improve because of the dad’s overwhelming desire for power and control. While these two cases were vastly different, they shared many similar qualities. Both the teens and parents failed to see how their individual actions within the relationship affected the other person, due to lack of willingness to see the others’ perspective.

Engage in meaningful and thought-provoking conversations with your teens. Brainstorm with them. Their ideas may surprise you in the best possible way. When it makes sense, compromise!

As children grow, they develop new thought patterns that frequently help them to prepare for adult challenges and responsibilities. This can be seen through qualities such as independence, confidence, and assertiveness. During this time of change and growth, parents must be willing to step outside of their comfort zone and experience their own role changes. As role models, parents should be privy to adjustments that can be made to compliment and enhance growth qualities of their teen. After all, everyone wants to be heard, appreciated and taken seriously, right?

Some key things to implement as your teenager grows and evolves:

  • Make validation during conversation a top priority.
  • Be willing to brainstorm ideas and compromise when appropriate.
  • Practice actively listening.
  • Allow your teen to have age appropriate independences.
  • Agree to disagree.

In my experiences, those parents unfamiliar with validation have an underlying notion that validation equals agreement. Incorrect! Validation is simply recognizing and/or affirming that someone is, or someone’s feelings or opinions are, valid or worthwhile. For example, when your spouse comes home from work and shares with you that he/she had a bad day, your response is hopefully not, “No you did not.” Instead, your response may be something like, “I’m sorry that you had a bad day, I hope tomorrow is better for you.” Let your teens know that while you may not understand what they are thinking and feeling, you do acknowledge their thoughts and feelings.

By the time your children have grown to be teenagers, they will likely have many ideas of their own that they wish to voice and/or act on. Encourage and emphasize this quality rather than viewing it as a negative characteristic. Engage in meaningful and thought-provoking conversations with your teens. Brainstorm with them. Their ideas may surprise you in the best possible way. When it makes sense, compromise!

So many people focus on the speaking portion of the conversation that they forget that there is another, more important piece to conversation: listening. If you are actively listening, this would mean that you are fully present: You’re not mentally preparing your verbal response, and you’re allowing yourself to engage and process the information that the other party has shared with you. Stephen R. Covey’s quote is all too often accurate: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: They listen with the intent to reply.”

Providing your teens the opportunity to have new independences as they grow offers significant groundwork for adult challenges. For example, is it appropriate for your 16-year-old to have full access to your bank account? No. Is it appropriate for your 16-year-old to have his/her own bank account for the purposes of money management and responsibility? Likely, yes. Both sheltering and over-indulging your children with personal independences can have negative results. However, do allow yourself to provide your teen with age appropriate independences.

Lastly, when you feel like a conversation with your teen is spiraling around and around in circles, agree to disagree. This frequently yields a much more respectful and peaceful end to a disagreement versus engaging in ongoing frustration and conflict. This method keeps the integrity of having a meaningful conversation, validates the opinion of your teens, yet asserts to them that you are not in agreement with their thinking.

Differences in perspectives do not have to result in hurt feelings and conflict. Using the five listed tips will help to foster healthy, meaningful, and authentic interactions. By actively applying these tips in your daily interactions with your teens, decreasing frustrations can be within your grasp.

Karah Gonstead is a licensed clinical social worker who provides mental health therapy in downtown Eau Claire. Her passion is working with teenagers and their families to achieve meaningful results.

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