By Megan McQueen
As a parent of two teens, I am very familiar with the changes in our relationship since my kids have grown older. I have shifted into more of a coaching role and less of a director. There is no warning that kids are ready for a different dynamic. We, as caregivers, need to be intuitive and responsive. It isn’t always apparent when our kids seem to need support and direction but, at the same time, want less of it. I am reminded of the toddler phase when my kids tried to buckle themselves in their car seats but did not have the fine motor skills to do so yet.
As parenting educators, we can be compassionate listeners to caregivers parenting teens and offer helpful strategies to adjust to changing family dynamics.
Empathize with Families
When my oldest child shifted into their teen years, I had to process my feelings. It felt like grief – I missed my younger child and their more straightforward needs. I appreciate their perspective and our more complex conversations, but I was surprised by the transition. It can be helpful to offer a listening ear to families sharing their stories of the teen who seems to replace their more innocent elementary schooler overnight. Keeping a sense of humor during this dramatic time seems crucial. Many caregivers can bond with personal stories. We have a lovely opportunity as “experts” to be vulnerable and share stories of our less-than-perfect reactions to our teens. We all have them!
Start Conversations with Curiosity and Questions
Teens can spot a parent with an agenda a mile away. Encouraging caregivers to pause and collect themselves before conversing with their teens might be helpful. In an interview with Melinda Wenner Moyer, Dr. Danielle Dick suggests, “If you want to start a conversation yourself, it’s often better to start with questions. You can use this as an opening: “Hey, I was reading a blog today that was all about kids and alcohol use. Do you see a lot of kids using it [at] your school, or kids talking about alcohol or other drugs at your school? Are any of your friends already using or experimenting?” Reminding families that kids are much more likely to discuss important topics like this when they are sharing information “as an expert on teens” rather than about their personal choices can help these conversations begin and take some fear away from the adults.
Establishing and maintaining a solid relationship between caregivers and teens becomes an essential goal as children become more independent. Young adults know that grown-ups are fallible. Teens also commonly nudge boundaries that are in place. They do this to help families adjust expectations as needed.
Ken Ginsberg writes that adults being flexible (listening to teens’ perspectives and responding) can be an essential part of maintaining healthy communication:
“Allow your teens wiggle room if they reasonably state they did not know they crossed a line or that you had made a request. Use this as an opportunity to teach them about your expectations.”
As educators, we can gently remind caregivers of the power they have when they consider their child’s point of view. By doing this, they model perspective-taking and empathic listening. The teen feels respected. Adults can hold boundaries when needed to keep their teens safe, but many other expectations are negotiable.
We can help remind families how much magic happens when we spend time together. Often, as caregivers, we direct our children and ask pointed questions most of the time. Protecting time to play together and be together will help our teens feel connected and at ease instead of on edge. Dr. Lisa Damour recommends we “set aside and protect unstructured time to be with your teen” to help them open up to us. Family life can be so structured with everyone’s demanding schedules. In our classes, we can suggest that families build together time in their weeks at home.
Teens get a bad rap in our culture for being rebellious and rude. Instead, we can help families see the fun and beauty in their teens. All parents can relate to the cliche about time going by so fast. Help families enjoy their last years all together and maintain solid relationships as they head into parenting young adults.
The Emotional Lives of Teenagers by Dr. Lisa Damour
Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen by Michelle Icard
The Teenage Brain by Dr. Frances E Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt
El cerebro del adolescente por David Bueno
Estableciendo conexiones saludables con familiares y otros adultos importantes en su vida (Ensuring Strong Connections for Teens)
Comprendiendo el cerebro del adolescente a través de la ciencia (Get to Know How the Teen Brain Works)
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.