If you have children, you probably know that being a parent is one of the most rewarding, yet difficult jobs in the world. No matter how many best-selling parenting books you buy or podcasts you download, raising teens presents a whole new set of challenges.
Navigating conflict with your teenager is a collective rite of passage for all parents. One of the reasons why parent-teen conflict can be so difficult is because as parents, we examine how we show up in conflict before we can successfully navigate it with our kids.
Achieving independence is an essential part of your teen’s journey toward adulthood. As a parent, you are tasked with supporting your teen along the bumpy rollercoaster of emotions as they explore their identity. You watch your teen change their tastes in food and style take new risks outside of school and hang out with different friends. Maybe they’ve started to roll their eyes at you, ignore you, or only come to you when they need something. After working to build a beautiful and strong parent-child relationship for all these years, *poof* in the blink of an eye it feels like you’ve lost your precious baby. Rest assured you are not alone in this experience. This shift happens to us all as our teens grow up. It can leave us feeling unappreciated and unwanted. While there is no magic solution to prevent this experience from happening, we have some helpful communication strategies to support you as you navigate this stage of parenting.
Active Listening is Key
Actively listening to what your teen shares with you is essential, no matter what they bring to you. Try to listen intently to their thoughts, concerns, drama at school, or dreams without judgment, and with a compassionate tone. Your tone has the power to negatively or positively impact how your teen receives your guidance. Demonstrating concern and care can be accomplished by having a soft, patient tone in your voice. Making eye contact during conversation can also communicate to your teen that you are with them and are trying to connect with them.. If you are texting or clearly distracted by cooking dinner, your teen will feel you are not fully present. This communicates you are not listening to them fully, and ultimately that you don’t care. Using encouraging nonverbal responses and being mindful of your body language, such as nodding or uncrossing your arms during conflict can be another way to show you care and diffuse any tension in the moment. Lastly, offering brief verbal affirmations, such as “I see,” or “Mmmmm tell me more” can help you truly understand what your teen is experiencing and meet them where they are.
Keep judgments to a minimum
Teens are hypersensitive to judgment and disapproval from their parents. If they sense in any way that you will be critical, judgmental, or too controlling of their behavior, they will resist opening up to you. So the next time you are listening to your teen, resist the urge to step into judgment mode. Try as much as possible to keep judgments to a minimum and hear your teen out– they will most likely feel more understood and connected with you if they are fully accepted. Letting your kids be themselves in your home is a key way to help them feel safe.
Before you bring up a difficult topic with your child, pay attention to your mood. Are you in an emotionally regulated space or do you feel angry or upset with your teen? Give yourself some time to process and regulate any strong emotions you may be experiencing. The more you are able to emotionally regulate yourself before a conversation, the more compassion you can find for your teen’s perspective.
It is equally as vital to give your teen that same time and space to process. This way they too can regulate some of their own strong emotions and come to the conversation from a less reactive space. Remember that teenage brain development means your child might not be able to see things from your perspective. This developmentally makes sense and is a useful reminder for parents to have patience.
What if I Need More Support?
Raising teens is really hard! It's important to remember that doing your best for your child looks different every day. It’s also completely okay and normal to need a little extra help navigating this stage of parenting. If you’re a parent working through these growing pains with your teen, the psychologists at North Berkeley Counseling are here to help. We see clients in our office in Berkeley, California, as well as online throughout California, Florida, Virginia, and Hawaii. Book your first session today!