Teenagers can sometimes be hard to understand, but there are some things that teens wish they could ask their parents.
Dr. Liz Hale gets inside teen’s heads and shares questions they want to ask their mom and dad.
DO YOU LIKE ME?
In the independent film, “Lady Bird,” mom and daughters are out shopping for a prom dress. My favorite scene is when the daughter emerges from the dressing room in a beautiful pink prom dress, admires herself in the mirror and says, “I love it!”
If I were to watch this scene play-out between clients of mine, if I were on this shopping trip as the family director, I would yell, “that’s a wrap!” After the daughter says “I love it,” good enough! Don’t fight about fabrics! If it covers enough, that’s enough!
If daughter loves it, mom, then it’s YES TO THE DRESS!
Teens are SO sharp and sensitive to your approval or lack thereof. Watch your nonverbal communication. Often what happens is a child picks out an outfit and a parent has some nonverbal communication: Head tilt, lip pucker, teens get it! You don’t approve of their outfit, but more painfully they read it as you don’t approve of them.
DO YOU SEE ME?
Can I just tell you I’m a huge fan of movies and music, especially when it comes to helping teens and parents connect. We are blessed with artists who can write lyrics and writers who can create movie scripts that provide us the path to each other’s hearts when we can’t seem to make it there on our own.
I’ve been working with a lovely but lonely 15-year old girl recently and at our session earlier this week she pulled up a song on her iPhone and played it for me saying “this is EXACTLY how I feel with my parents; that I’ve been a disappointment to them.” This artist NF hit the nail on the head for her with their top hit, “Let You Down.”
I brought mom in and was thrilled to hear that she immediately had her own perfect song for her precious daughter by Rascal Flats, “My Wish.” Before I could get the words out of my mouth advising this 15-year-old teen to perhaps look up the song and lyrics to “My Wish,” she was already downloading it on her phone!
Music can work magic! Instead of criticizing their genre, get curious about it and ask them to tell you what they’re listening to and why it resonates with them.
And look up artists. I want to know why they write about what they write about. Discuss with your teen what you discovered about that artist’s background or look up that artist together. Get curious not furious about what they’re listening to.
Help them find ways to express themselves. Especially to you!
WILL YOU HELP ME WITH “THEM?”
“Them” is anyone outside the safety of the family. We need to teach them to turn to another person in human form, an actual being, and not the essence of humans over social media. It’s painful for a parent to experience the ripping away of their once-close pre-teen as their now-teenager acculturates into the larger tribe. But it’s a crucial part of their development. It’s in their friend group that they learn to form deep connections and abilities that will bless them the rest of their lives well after you’re gone. Welcome their friends. Invite them in. Encourage everyone to leave their cell phones alone as they spend time together. Help them find their own identity. Help them develop and recognize traits that constitute a good friend. Be there for them when a true friend isn’t so true. Teach and model for them that relationships take work! There is no instant gratification model to life-fulfillment. Relationships require effort every single day!
CAN I JUST CHILL & RELAX?
It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to be a teen. Between academics and activities, peers and parents, adolescents confront a great deal of stress on a daily basis.
In fact teens cite stress as the number one reason they medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Teens don’t instinctively know how to grow into healthy adults. They are accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle and are in a rush to grow up.
Believe it or not, teens want you to set and enforce limits. Insist upon time spent at home as a family, playing games, having discussions, or enjoying a weekend activity together shopping at the grocery store where they can pick out a treat or two to have when friends come over again.
With some overseeing from you, encourage them to play a video game, listen to music, take a nap, or watch a movie to manage the stress and pressure in their lives.
WILL YOU BE DISAPPOINTED IN ME IF I FAIL?
Give teens space to experiment as they try on new personas, hopes and dreams. As long as these things are not fatal or illegal allow them new experiences. Failure at home where you can direct them is better than failure in the world where consequences are far greater.
We often learn more from failure than success. Practice saying, “What do you think?”
“What’s the worst thing that will happen?”
“What are you going to do about that?”
“I trust you. I believe in you.”
“You’ll figure it out.”
These comments move responsibility into their hands and signals them that they are maturing and that it’s ok to fail. Being courageous is one of the best traits we instill in ourselves and our youth.
My 15-year-old client I mentioned earlier did a quick poll among her friends on what advice they’d recommend to parents. Here’s the list:
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
BE FIRM YET STRICT IN A NICE CLEAR WAY
BE THEIR BEST FRIEND
BE SOMEONE THEY CAN COME TO FOR ADVICE
SHOW HOW MUCH YOU LOVE THEM
YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BUY THEM STUFF;
JUST BE THERE.