As parents, we often feel that by the time our children reach the age of 4 or 5, we’ve almost mastered the parenting process.
We struggle through the ‘terrible twos’ and endless tantrums and feel a sense of accomplishment when we eventually manage to get our children off the slide in the park and back home without wails and screams.
We think we’ve mastered the art of communication until our children reach their teenage years. The wails and screams often return. The tiny hands that would once hold yours for re-assurance slam doors so loud that it makes your bones shake.
Your child that once struggled to say ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ may seem to have developed an extensive vocabulary which is often delivered with volume and rage.
You may feel as if you don’t know your teenager at all.
You wonder if they love you or appreciate you at all.
Trying to communicate with them may seem impossible and cause you immense stress.
I’d like to re-assure you that your teenager does love you. They do need you. And deep down they do value you.
Their erratic behaviour, risk-taking and emotional outbursts are caused by many changes taking place within the teenage brain which we are often unaware of as parents.
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blackmore discovered that during adolescence the pre-frontal cortex is still developing.
This part of the brain is associated with decision making, self-regulation, judgement and insight.
This results in less ‘self-control’.
A teenager is more likely to take risks as a result.
Parents may not understand this risk-taking behaviour and their teen’s decisions make seem ridiculous or inappropriate.
Teenagers are also less able to read emotions effectively.
One experiment involved showing a picture of a person’s face to both adults and teenagers.
All participants had to identify the expressed emotions which included fear, shock and anger.
Every adult correctly identified the look of fear.
Only half of the teenagers, however, got the right answer.
As parents, we need to ‘ride-out’ this turbulent time in our teenagers lives. (I highly recommend the book, Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan to help you understand this further)
We need to understand that changes taking place in the brain may be responsible for erratic and frustrating behaviour.
It doesn’t mean that we should tolerate bad behaviour but understanding it may help to alleviate stress for you both.
To help you communicate with your teenager, why not try my tried and tested top tips below:
Separate their behaviour from their identity.
Your teenager’s behaviour is not ‘who they are’.
Their erratic behaviours are simply that… behaviours.
They bear no reflection on who they are as a person as a whole. Behaviours can and will change.
Your teen is not a bad person, just a young adult with a changing brain.
They may also find it challenging to deal with their emotions.
Step into their shoes.
Try to understand how they feel. Try to see the world through their eyes. What are they seeing? What do they hear? How do they feel?
I’d recommend putting pen to paper and writing down the answers from their perspective. This may allow you great insight into their behaviour and their feelings.
As parents, we need to remember that our perceived reality is not the same as the reality of our teenagers.
Stepping into their reality will allow us to tailor our communication to get better results.
Spend time with them.
You may feel as if your teenager doesn’t want to spend any time with you. You may feel as if they don’t need you. They do.
During this turbulent time, suggest spending time with them doing things that they enjoy.
Tell them that you enjoy spending 1-2-1 time with them.
Think of 3 activities that you know they will enjoy and suggest they choose one of them. They may surprise you and say yes!
Ask them how they feel.
This may seem obvious but it’s easy for a parent to forget this. Show that you care. Show that you want to listen.
When they speak, let me fully express their feelings.
Listen with your lips shut.
Even if you don’t agree with their words, let them have their say.
To show that you understand, when they have finished speaking say “So you feel…?”, repeating their words and phrases back to them.
This will help them to feel understood and help you to understand.
Be prepared to compromise.
Show that you are willing to compromise.
Allow them to feel empowered and ask them for suggestions as to how you can improve your relationship.
They may well come up with ideas that will help you both.
Telling a teenager what do to or how to behave isn’t usually successful.
Giving them the chance to voice their ideas and suggesting a compromise is far more beneficial for both parties.
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