Communication with purpose promotes harmony!
PARENTS’ TOOLKIT – TEENS
Toddlers might have their terrible twos, but the challenges presented by teens can last more than a year. Between 13 and 19, this age group faces unprecedented pressure from peers, social media and school that often plays out at home, frustrating and exasperating parents. Here, two experts offer suggestions to ease the tensions. Andy Goldstrom, a certified parent coach who heads Parents Journey Coaching, and Amy Bryant, founder of Wild Child Counseling, both of which serve our area, share their insights.
Is there one major issue most parents of teens struggle with?
Goldstrom: A lot of it has to do with communication. Parents have always had challenges, but with teens, it’s a tsunami of stuff. Kids are more confused, more defiant and more depressed. They don’t know how to connect with people. Parents can do two things: First is what I call parent alignment, when parents connect and compromise in advance of talking to the kids. When one parent says yes, and the other says no, the child always goes to the path of least resistance, and that can turn parents against each other. Second, parents need to understand that when kids disobey, they’re not trying to be bad; they’re trying to cope. I recommend picking a Top Five list to help them: dinner together three nights a week, rooms have to be clean, phones will have restrictions. And then have a united front.
How does that often play out?
Goldstrom: It works if you start from a position of love: “We want to do what’s in your best interest, but there are boundaries for living in this house. You have the choice to adhere to them or not, but there are consequences.” This usually lets the teen enjoy the benefits of good decisions and the consequences of bad ones. And it shows you respect them to make good decisions.
What are some major stumbling blocks to effective communication?
Bryant: A lot of times it’s not about the teen but what’s triggering the parent. Collaborative problem solving can help. If the issue is dishes being left around the house, talk about how to solve the problem rather than shaming. That builds life and communication skills. A lot of times it helps to just say, “Help me understand what’s going on with you.” And then you have to believe what they say.
Goldstrom: Questions with close-ended answers don’t work. Rather than, “How was your day?” that gets a good or bad answer, consider, “I’m curious how your day was. Share with me.” Invite kids to tell you more. When they open up, you learn about them and make them feel understood. At first, they’ll be like, “Is this really my dad?” But in a few weeks, the interactions are very different.
How do you coach parents on handling the stress of teen years?
Bryant: For parents, the desire to do everything right can be overwhelming. One thing I work on is being clear about what the goals are. What kind of relationship do you want when your child is 25? With that clarity, it’s harder to be pressured by the world around us. And don’t be afraid to put conversations on pause if you feel like you’re going to yell, blame or shame. Calm your own body and brain first.
Goldstrom: Make time to be a partner [to your co-parent or spouse]. People don’t deal well with stuff because they’re tired, working hard and not really enjoying each other’s company. Take a trip without the kids. My wife and I play cribbage, and we talk about us. Being more connected as a couple helps our marriage and parenting, and sets a good model for our kids.
PARENTS JOURNEY COACHING
WILD CHILD COUNSELING
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.