Read This Before You Fight With Your Teenager…Again
My daughter Olive wants to grow up and live in a van creating art while traveling around the country.
That’s been her dream since she was six years old, and at that time, I told her she could be and do anything she wanted in her life. The sky is the limit! I didn’t really think the dream would stick, but now that she’s a teenager, it sure is harder to support her hopes and dreams when they sound like that.
My goal as her mom has always been to guide, not define. I feel that teaching her how to make decisions that support her dreams and lead her in a life of kindness and compassion for others was my main job. I want to teach her to think long term on how the decisions and choices she makes today will affect her life down the road, but the road…. that’s up to her.
So how do we, as parents, get along with our kids when we don’t agree with their decisions? It gets even more complicated as they become teenagers because we know they will be grown soon and may no longer look to us for guidance.
We wonder if they’ll be able to fly.
There are two types of decisions teenagers make that we disagree with:
ones we think are a bad idea, for a variety of reasons
ones we think are dangerous.
The later is the only one I think we need to take issue with. If something is dangerous, draw a line in the sand for what is right or wrong.
The other, we need to shift our thinking. Yes. As parents, we need to do the shifting, let me explain why.
Having a disagreement with your teenagers is one of the single greatest opportunities for growth the two of you can have. You can show your child that you are someone worth following, or that you are someone to be ignored. The choice is yours.
Your teen wants to know they are being heard.
The best way to guide someone is to truly understand where they are coming from and where they want to go. Our children are not us! They have their own set of beliefs and experiences that create how they see the world. When a conflict arises, their choice may make perfect sense to them, even if it doesn’t to us. Let them know you hear them by asking questions.
Listen but don’t just listen to the answer, listen to the reasoning behind the answer. Then ask even better questions.
My daughter wants to live in a van and create art because she wants freedom. Her experience is watching me have to bring her to daycare in the morning so I could get to work. Her experience is having limited exposure to anything but the area of the country we live in, aside from a yearly vacation someplace new. When I sought to understand the reasons why, I could understand how to guide her to something she really wanted. I could help expose her to new experiences she was yearning for, we could research other areas of the world together online and we could plan something bigger for down the road. I could share careers she may not have known about that would allow her to travel all over the world instead of just where the van could take her.
If I had just shut her off and said, “You’re not living in a van when you grow up!” I would have missed an incredible opportunity of connection and growth between us. I would have missed an opportunity to be able to guide her on her journey and dream with her.
When you belittle, it shuts the door to communication.
When you are open, you gain trust and trust builds connection. You may not fully understand the reasoning, but your children are their own people with their own way of thinking. When you belittle their thoughts or ideas, you shut the door to communication. Stay open. Watch your reactions. Slow down.
I try and remember that I am not trying to raise a good kid. I am trying to raise a functioning, happy and kind adult. That’s something totally different.
How do I want her to communicate with her boss? With coworkers? With her van mechanic? (oy!) I need to show her that behavior now by example. This is the opportunity for intense learning because we learn most through experience. Being respectful of how much they know and how much they have already grown is powerful. When you are respectful, they will learn to communicate respectfully with others.
We don’t need to be right to have success.
Instead of fighting for the outcome or decision that we want, what if we shift to guide them through the consequences for the choice they have made? What we say, “Okay, I hear that. What do you think could happen next?” Have them think through it with you without pushback.
Having a discussion about what the outcome could be can help you understand their thought process and also help them get a better handle on the outcome they want. Maybe it’s not what you think and maybe there is a better way to get there that you both can agree on.
I’ve talked with Olive about the van fears I have in my mind from watching too much CSI. I’ve shared my fears, but not to the point to dissuade her, only to see what she thinks. How would she handle this situation or that situation? Would she get lonely? How would she pay her bills? I wasn’t trying to decide for her, only to understand what she thought, and not surprisingly, she hadn’t thought about most of those things. That opened a door to share my perspective even more. She listened because I did. We agreed not make any decisions right now, there was time.
Tell less, listen more. Collaborate. Become partners.
Think of how much sweeter it could be if you and your teen were partners through struggles. Knowing that struggles will come, but feeling that you’ll make decisions together and they will be better adults down the road because of it. How sweet if they had an appreciation for you as the adult and knew you may have a different perspective that can help them instead of a power struggle with them? How sweet indeed.
Betsy Pake is an author and speaker, helping people Start Small to Live Big. She is working daily to help her daughter understand the benefits of an RV instead of a van but still hoping they’ll never need one. You can find her at BetsyPake.com or anywhere online @Betsypake.
Download her free list of conversation starters for parents & teens: http://www.betsypake.com/parentquestions