Monday, August 5, 2013

Mad Parenting: Teen Talk

Talking about teens with anger.

This is where it gets tricky, doesn't it?

Angry teens scare us.  We don't know what to say and we fear saying the wrong thing.

Teens can feel unreachable.                                       

Parents of teens walk the tightrope of giving independence and offering support.

It's downright scary.  So scary that sometimes parents are tempted to look away.

The older kids get, the more parents seem to fear their anger and wish to avoid it.  There is a tendency to minimize teen upsets with clich√©'s like "It will look better tomorrow" or "That's nothing to worry about". 

Sound familiar?  Do you hear yourself sometimes saying those things?

I get what's scary about addressing your teen's anger and upset.

It's the intensity.

Teens can either become loud and inconsolable or moody and isolative.  You may hear them say "I'm fine.  Nothing's wrong"

You get stuck between wanting to reach out and fearing that you will only irritate them further by intruding.

The truth here is "I'm fine." can be code for a lot of things:
  • I feel stupid
  • What if you don't understand
  • I don't know how to talk about it
  • I'm embarrassed
  • It's not fair
Next time you get an "I'm fine" or an "I don't want to talk about it", try saying:
"I know you can handle things but you look stressed and your hands are clenched. You seem bothered. Let me know if you'd like to run something by me".

You can also try making a validating statement, if you think you know the cause of the upset: "It doesn't sound like your friend gave you a straight answer" or "You worked hard on that project.  It sucks not to get the grade you want when you put the effort in".

They key here is to validate without problem-solving. When they push you away, they are usually pushing away your problem-solving, not your support.

Teens are trying to figure things out for themselves and they need to.  You can always ask if they need help solving the problem but if not, just listen.

You'll want to work on tolerating their silence while maintaining an open door. Let them hide in their room but later on, see if they want to talk.  Like us grown-up kids, sometimes they need time to sort their thoughts and feelings out before being able to talk about what is upsetting them.

Often with school-aged kids, they are clamoring for your 1:1 attention.  They would love nothing more than to sit and talk and have you listen. 

It's different with teens.

Teens are trying to sort out and find their independence while still having a relationship with you.  It's dicey and complicated for them so sometimes they work through the ambivalence by pulling further away.

That's the hardest thing for parents of teens.  The silence from their teen.  Not being included.
I'll tell you a secret

They do want and need your support. 

They just struggle with acknowledging it so you might have to take the back door approach.  

Stop trying for a 1:1 talk across the kitchen table.

Instead, take advantage of car rides which offer the luxury of avoiding making eye contact.  This helps kids feel safer and less interrogated.

If you know something is on their mind but they aren't talking about it, send them a supportive text messageWhat they might not be able to say out loud, they may be able to send in a text.

Be old fashioned and take pen to paper.  Write your teen a note and let him or her know you are noticing that something is bothering them and you are there if they want to talk or if writing is easier, they can just write back.

Balance support with accountability.

Regardless if a teen is talking about their upset or not, make sure they are managing their feelings appropriatelySet consequences in the moment, if necessary.

If your teen is exhibiting anger that is out of control, he or she is likely feeling out of control Limits help kids regain a sense of control because they remind teens that an adult is in charge.

Parents don't always like to punish emotional reactions because they fear that they are telling their teen that their feelings aren't ok.

Not true. Setting consequences on outbursts tells the teen that their behavior isn't ok.

Try saying: "Look, I get that you're ticked off about something.  I get, too, that you're not up for talking about it.  That's fine.  However, you do not get to snap at me or be impatient with your brother.  If you can't be nice around us, go to your room and calm down. If you stay here and continue to be rude, plan on losing your phone for the night".

This approach validates the feeling but also teaches teens that their overwhelming feelings are no excuse for acting out or disrespectful behaviors.

Don't take it personally if your teen talks to an adult other than you. Sometimes, that is an easier way for them to save face or be vulnerable.  Just be glad they are talking to someone.

See your teen stuck in mad mode and unable to calm down?

Try suggesting:
  • A run
  • A shower
  • Punching a pillow
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Playing a video game
  • Reading
  • Ripping up a phone book (remember those?) or thick newspaper/magazine
  • Writing a letter with all of their angry thoughts and words and then ripping it up
Teens are under so many stressors and sometimes, like any of us, their anger will run away from them.

The important thing to remember is that you want to:
  1. Validate the upset
  2. Hold accountability when necessary
  3. Offer and create opportunities to support
  4. Remember that this, too, shall pass!!!!

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