Teenagers have a way of pushing our buttons, don’t they?

Recently we heard something like this, “Dad tells me all the time that I have to grow up. He says I have approach decisions like an adult. Act like an adult. Make grown-up choices. Think like an adult. Stop acting like a kid. Grow up. I hear him say it like ten times a day.” The teenager stopped, took a breath, looked down, and then peered straight into my eyes.

“And then when I ask him about something important, he tells me that I just don’t understand because I’m not an adult. So which is it? Am I an adult or am I just a kid?”

The struggle is real.

Not everyone remembers the teenage years with fondness. Oh, we may have had some fun and what we remember as wild times with our circle of friends, but so much of the time was about figuring things out. We had to straddle that line between child and adult, and we were never on the side where we wanted to be. If we wanted to do something “grown up,” like go to a concert with our friends or go to a party that wouldn’t end until the wee hours, we were told that we were too young. And when we just wanted to goof off and hang out, we’d get lectures about adult responsibilities and preparing for the future. Add in a daily overdose of hormones, and it could be a rough time.

Then we become parents of teenagers, and to our absolute horror, we find ourselves saying things our parents said. An instant after the words escape our mouth, we realize we just said what we hated hearing our parents tell us. We find ourselves lecturing instead of listening. And when the kids talk back, we lash out angrily, often regretting our words.

Two sets of interests are colliding here. On the one hand, you have a teenager who is in a hurry to grow up and grab all the privileges of adulthood. On the other is you, wanting your child to become a healthy, independent adult, but still wishing she could remain the child who turned to you for everything. Add in your desire to protect her from dangers she doesn’t fully grasp, and conflict is inevitable. How you handle that conflict today will determine what your relationship will be like by the time he’s grappling with parenthood.

There are no easy answers, but effective communication always helps. One of the most profound statements I heard a teenager say was, “I just want my parents to listen to hear me, not to respond.”

As humans, we tend to dig in and defend our own positions instead of truly listening to hear each other. And we don’t automatically consider the other person’s position.  Sometimes, simply acknowledging the other person’s opinion … even if you don’t share it … lets them know you’re paying attention. Giving a teenager the opportunity to build trust in ever-growing amounts can boost your confidence and theirs at the same time. Effective communication take intentional practice, and it doesn’t include accusations, shouting, or threats. You may have to take more deep breaths than you like, but learning how to communicate will be worth it in the long run.

If you’re at your wits’ end and you feel like nothing you’ve tried is working, perhaps it’s time to talk with one of team.  Our counselors can serve as the objective voice in the room, making sure everyone is heard. We have specific activities that help build better communication patterns and will promote understanding and forgiveness. Parenting isn’t easy. And, while the adult-or-kid dilemma remains, we can help you keep it from destroying your relationship with your teenager. Contact us today.

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