When I think about communicating with a teenager the first thing I do is I think about “what was it like when I was a teenager and my parents were talking to me?” Can you remember what it was that like for you? I think that a lot of us have an experience, a similar experience of talking to our parents as teenagers, that it didn’t feel so much as talking as it felt like being talk to or talked at. I got a lot of advice and some of it was really good and some of it I didn’t really feel related to me or I just I wasn’t able to take it in and process it. The thing that really stands out now that I look back on it was that when I was talking with my parents I really wasn't engaged. I wasn't part of the conversation. I just listened a lot and tried to take in as much as I could
Communication vs. “Talking At”
So that's one way to do it. Now if you have tried that with your kids, how effective have you felt that to be? Probably not very. These days kids are a lot more aware of what their child rights are and about what's reportable and what’s not. They really know how to keep us from really talking to them or telling them what to do or yelling or spanking or any of those things. It's just not allowed now where back in the day it was I was all right to do it; wasn’t as big of a deal. So when we think about communicating or talking with our teenager, it’s important because these are a different generations of kids, to think about how to communicate with them. Communication is a two way street. This means to give and receive; to communicate is an exchange. So when we're talking to our teenage kids and we’re not giving them an opportunity to talk is that really a conversation? I'd have to say if we ask most kids out there they probably wholeheartedly say “no I don't get to talk with my parents. Most of my teenage clients say my parents talk at me. They tell me what to do; they tell me what I'm doing wrong. But our teenagers don't really feel they’re having conversation. Consider an example of you find marijuana in your kids' room or in their backpack. Most parents are going to freak out and as you see your kids are going to sit them down and say “what is this? Do you know this is not okay? You know it's not ok. I'm really upset with you. I'm going to take away your phone forever. You’re grounded for 30 days. Oh and by the way you never do your homework you come home late and your grades stink, Etc. Etc. Etc.” So when we get into that angry place where were triggered, we start throwing the kitchen sink at our kids and that's not a conversation. That’s just your kid taking on a barrage of things and a lot of those things are things that they're not doing well. Things that they're doing wrong. So often times I hear from teenage clients that all they ever told is that they're doing things wrong and how to do it right. But that way of doing it right doesn't resonate with them.
Wait Before You Communicate
Let’s look at a second scenario so you find weed in your kids' room or in their backpack and you find it and you're feeling really upset. You take a deep breath, you call your partner, spouse, therapist, friend and you try to get some support to blow off the steam. “Oh my gosh you wouldn't believe what I found, this is horrible. I don't know. My kids not that kind of kid. I can't believe this” So you get out all the steam and then you come up with a plan. Okay I think I'm going to sit down after dinner and My spouse or partner we're on the same page we’ve got a plan we're going to talk about things and figure out what's going on. How many of you identify more with scenario two or do you see yourself more reacting like scenario one? I'd say most of us identify with scenario one where it's kind of an explosion and it's a lot of lecturing. it’s lot of talking to it's a lot of pointing out all of the terrible things that our kids are doing all at one time because were triggered. The question then becomes okay well if we want scenario two to be our approach how do we do that and not react with scenario 1.
In order to get to something like scenario two it's important to wait. Wait until you and your nervous system, your brain, is ready to think and think clearly because when we get activated our brain goes to this limbic system which is the old part of our brain. The limbic system is very reactive. All that's doing is getting a feeling, it's getting triggered and it goes through old memory. The old part of the brain tells itself “I know this! And oftentimes that thing that it pulls out is not relevant at all or it's just faulty information. It’s reactionary. This is the part of the brain where when you're going to die this is really great because it's going to save you. It's going to pull out every memory or scenario possible to make sure that you're safe and that everything's okay. The thing is that part of our brain can't really tell the difference between being activated because we're going to die or being activated because we found weed in our kid’s bedroom. We have to be able to calm our nervous system and get our thoughts come up to the frontal cortex. This is where reasonable and rational thought occurs. But you can’t get to rational part of your brain if you're stuck in the Limbic system.
Decide What’s Important First
So wait, blow off some steam with a friend, a spouse, a partner, your therapist, anybody you can talk to or Journal about it. Whatever you do to blow off the steam, blow off the steam. Get your brain into the right space. Once you are calmer you can also practice grounding yourself this is part of self-care where you breathe because you want to get oxygen into your blood stream so you get oxygen into your bloodstream that's going to tell your brain that everything is okay and things settle down. So breathe and you're going to do the breathing in for three seconds, hold and exhale for five. We talked about this in a previous segment click here to review calming, breathing and grounding. You want to ground yourself. You want to breathe and you want to get your nervous system to activate the free frontal cortex, When you can get your brain there you're going to think and you're not going to be reacting. That’s the two best things you can have when you want to have a conversation is to be able to think and not be reactive. Once you're calm, once you've grounded yourself, you want to think about what's really important. You may be really upset that you found weed but is that really the point? Is that what’s important? Is that what you want to communicate to your teenager? Are you upset that your teenager is using marijuana or is it something more? That they were keeping a secret from you or that they have you been lying to you because you have asked previously if they and their friends are smoking weed and they say “oh no we never do that.” Those are way bigger things to discuss than why there is weed in their backpack.
Question & Problem Solve
You want to develop conversation around things that are meaningful and important. It may want to know “why is this weed in here! What’s going on” all these different things. The bigger issue is why didn’t they tell you? How come they felt they had to hide this from you? And now that you've found it are they going to talk to you about it or they’re going to continue to lie and make up stories about how they're holding onto it for a friend? So think about what’s important and then talk about those things that are important. And the things that are not important? Just leave those alone for right now. That doesn't mean that you're going to just be okay with it but for this particular conversation that's not necessarily the topic you want to address. Then once you've decided what's important you have to figure out how to talk to them about it. Now talking to them is actually really different than talking with them. When you talk with somebody you're asking a ton of questions because there are all these things you don't know, that you don't understand. How can you help your teenager if you don't understand what your teenager is thinking or why they are behaving a certain way? So asking questions is the number one way to have conversation with your child. Ask some very simple questions. “Well how long have you been smoking? Are there any other kinds of you know marijuana products that you’re using? Are you doing another kind of drugs? What are your friends doing? How did this start?” There are a ton of questions.
Other questions you might ask: “How does this help you? What is it that kept you from telling us about it? What can we do to make sure that you can tell us about things and that you don’t have to keep secrets from us?” This is all problem solving. When you have a problem you want to solve it. It’s not about you forcing your child into any kind of resolution that you wanted. It’s about actually solving the problem. So before the conversation you calm yourself, ground yourself, think about what’s important, come up with a plan of action, ask questions and then involve your teenager in coming up with what to do next. Sometimes that means what kind of consequence is going to come of this or next time if something like this comes up what can we do differently? On your end my teenage child and on my end as a parent, how can we do this differently so that it doesn’t end up like this again. This may seem simple but if you're not grounded, if you go into situation fired up; it's not going to go well and that goes for any situation not just talking to your teenager. So please if you want really want to talk and communicate with your child consider waiting, calming your limbic system, accessing your frontal cortex. Consider what's important, plan, talk with the other person, ask questions and problem solve together to figure out what kind of consequence is going to come of this and how to avoid it for next time. Again I know that when I list it out that you and I think wow that seems easy but it’s also hard and it takes a lot of practice especially if you didn't learn this from your family. So you're not going to get it perfect at the beginning. It's probably going to go a little sideways the first few times of trial and implementation but that's okay as long as you're trying to do something different and trying to communicate in a different way. I know that your teenager will appreciate it as well as anyone else that you're having conversation with.