DAY 2 - COMMUNICATION
“I don't want to talk to you. You don’t understand me. You don’t even know me”.
Sometimes lines of communication between our teenager and us as parents can become fraught. Having once meant the world to our child, the teen years are a stage where we wonder sometimes where we have gone so badly wrong. The child that used to come and connect and share all their experiences and feelings, now won’t come near and if they do then conversations are short lived, abrupt and sparked with electricity. One parent described her teenager to me as a ‘hedgehog’ and said she felt the ‘spikes’ every time her child came near.
I always say that in order to fully understand the transition that is going on in your once young child - now transitioning into adulthood, a parent needs to understand FIRST where they themselves are coming from: What are the needs of the parent? In what ways do we influence the conversations? What is the platform for communication that one is operating from?
There is a key we are able to use, and it is a vital one in understanding how to become fully whole parents. It comes from a sentence I hear much which is, “from being needed and loved by them…….” It is a sentence that gives away much about a parent’s very normal operating platform, and explains that not only are our teens ‘need based’, but so are we! Therefore before we can look positively at the needs of our teens, we MUST first look at our own, separate the two and then distinguish healthy lines of communication that are based on honour rather than need.
Lets first look at how we attach ourselves to our child:
When parents have small children they automatically sacrifice a lot of their lives. Some sacrifice careers and a stable monthly income, but all parents sacrifice the freedom they once had; the freedom of being independent, the freedom to sleep at night, the freedom to go where one wanted and whenever one wanted, the freedom to be ‘in control’. A huge transition happens when shifting from being childless to having children, and the ‘losses’ and sometimes grief in parents’ lives are replaced with that child who arrives loving them unconditionally. In those first years it does not matter what you look like, how you feel, or what you do - for the first time in your life you are loved in a way you have never been loved before, and very naturally a parent falls totally in love with the gift that has arrived in their life. NOTHING is as perfect as a parent’s child; they provide for them, protect them and fight their battles for them, and in return receive thanks, adoration, laughter, fun and the wonderful rewards that come alone with parenting.
What has happened is a natural shift in the parent having their needs met by a job, a position, a social life, friends etc, to having their needs met by the little person who now dominates their life - with routines they establish, shared time together, laughter during meal times, and adventures at the weekends and in the holidays. They invest in, cook for, entertain, worry over, nurture and now give themselves to something that transforms their life. In essence however, to some degree, their needs are now being met by their child. BUT just as quickly as one settles into this new way of life, the child is becoming a ‘tween’ and although they practically need their parent in the same way as before, and are more than happy for them to still put a meal on the table and do their washing, they no longer need them emotionally to the same degree. They are learning healthy boundaries of SEPARATION and are naturally shifting a dependency from the parent, to their peer group and to other adult role models. At a psychological level, known or unknown, many parents at this stage feel a deep sense of REJECTION and a hidden resentment seeps in which is what needs to be exposed when looking at the communication avenues existing between the teenager and parent.
Rejection is a hurtful emotion to experience. It is often first experienced as a young child by something that was once said or even not said, by a parent of one’s own, a friend that betrayed, or an opportunity that was taken away. It is a feeling that causes isolation and loneliness and often too can cause bitterness or unforgiveness and even jealousy. What is unknown during our children’s teenage years is that often they are triggering in a parent, what is buried or suppressed, and in responding to what they are communicating (or not communicating) the parent is triggered into fear.
When we parents respond to the ever shifting needs of our teens, it is vital therefore to acknowledge FIRST what is going on for us, because if we are aware of that platform which we are partnering and engaging with (anger, jealousy, resentment, fear, bitterness, grief etc) then we are more able to be rational when trying to understand where our teen is coming from.
Questions we can ask ourselves are:
-Am I holding onto my teen instead of allowing them to be free of my needs?
-Am I fearful of letting them go?
-Am I worried they will make mistakes and denying them the opportunity to learn and grow?
-Am I living my life through them, instead of allowing them to be free?
-Am I resentful that they have more opportunity than I had?
-Am I attached to them in a way where I make them feel responsible for me?
-Am I able to see them as an adult or do I still behave as though they are three?
-Am I putting expectations of them which are based on personal judgement?
As we take ownership of our own needs and behaviour, we are able to stand back and separate ourselves from our teens, and with the blinkers removed are able to look with fresh vision as to what their needs are. In removing our attachment to them we should be able to see them as separate from us and loosen the chains that we have unknowingly placed around them.
I often use the following exercise with my clients:
“Try and see your teen as an Airbnb visitor who has come to stay! You know little of their needs but are happy to make their 3 day stay as pleasant as it can be. You can ask them how they are feeling and what it is that they need, but the key is to have no assumptions. In the same was as you know nothing about the person who has come to stay, you have to assume you do not know what your teen needs today and the only way to understand it is to hear it fresh from them!”
Rather than having your confidence shaken by conflict, misunderstandings and arguments, another critical key is to remember 3 transitions that your teen is going through:
1. Hormonal change, which can cause sudden irritability and irrational behaviour.
2. Physiological changes including a dramatic development of the human brain, causing impulsive behaviour, and affecting decision-making, judgement and control.
3. Identity issues involving self-development, self-discovery, gender, faith and beliefs.
As a consequence an ‘explosion’ can erupt over minor things such as packing a lunchbox, a new relationship, finishing the dishes, doing the homework, going out, but we need to constantly come back to the ‘Airbnb visitor model’ and check where we are operating from. Would we be checking if they have their keys? If they have packed their bag? Where have they been? NO we wouldn’t because ‘checking up’ questions are loaded with implication, criticism and assumption. They are saying ‘you are still a child’.
What your teen is ultimately looking for is RESPECT and RECOGNITION for the person that they are becoming, not a confirmation of the child they once were (and we have to accept they might not become who WE want them to be!). By continuing to ‘parent’ a teen through pampering, arguing, convincing or trying to re-engage them, we must ask: ‘Are we trying to meet our needs of insecurity or are we prepared to honour our teen for who they are, stand back and watch, and engage with another adult who needs to separate from being our child in order to be able to live a healthy, independent and prosperous life - WHATEVER that might look like to them?’
There is nothing straightford or easy in parenting teens but I always say to the wonderful parents I meet…. “What are you doing each day to make sure your needs are being met too?” It may be as simple as going for a walk, meeting a friend, or having a bath by candle light, but what is as important as your teen is that YOUR needs too are being met!