Parenting Help with Teenagers: Mom and Dad vs the Volcano

Teenagers: Are they really from this planet?

Teenagers are a unique breed of people. They can be confident or even cocky one minute and the next they are riddled with insecurities and self doubt. Sometimes parents have no idea how to communicate with these alien life forms. It can be difficult, especially when adolescents are always letting us know how little we know, how misinformed we are, and of course the big one that we just don’t understand! Of course they are right, we have no life experience, we live with our heads in the sand, and even though we were teenagers ourselves once it must have been sometime way back in the Mesozoic era. How could we possibly understand their world?

Teenagers do have a lot on their plates though as they struggle with so many different aspects of life. Their social lives are ever changing and challenging and their conflicting needs to be significant and unique while still being accepted by their peers can sometimes overwhelm them. They really do need some support and understanding but often as parents we end up caught in a tug of war between trying to keep them on the straight and narrow and letting them explore their autonomy and self-direction. This can be extremely hard to do especially when we know what the world really has to offer them in the future, in terms of competition and the workplace, and our teens often seem to live in a place that can only be found with a radio telescope. Despite the fact that our adolescents have seemingly insane and fantastic ideas about life, there is little value in getting into long and tiresome debates about the minutiae of their every day existence.

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Parenting help with teenagers: Understanding

The job of parents once their children hit adolescence is to find ways to negotiate with them while doing our best to avoid head to head confrontations. The energy of a teenager will almost always win out when it comes to the bare knuckle brawl of a head to head argument. As parents we can only do our best to encourage our teenagers to help us understand all those things about their lives that our puny parent minds seem unable to grasp. And when we see them doing things that simply aren’t safe or that we can see are taking them down a road that has no good end in sight, all we can do is try to share our values and beliefs and the reasons why we want them to take a detour. We can use our parental veto on occasion but we need to do this judiciously because adolescents we really will tune us out if they believe we have become completely inflexible No Monsters.

When young people really do need our understanding and support they will find ways to help us understand. As parents it is important that we sometimes learn to listen to them without judgment. This means trying to see the world from their point of view, even when we believe something completely different. Part of the problem for parents is that while their child is trying to differentiate and become a separate and autonomous person, we as parents sometimes aren’t always quite so willing to respect and appreciate this process. It’s something we wanted so badly as teens ourselves but now that the roles are reversed we now see our parents weren’t so clueless. Listening without judgment means we can truly acknowledge that our children have their own ideas and agenda that are separate from ours. Sometimes parents begin to feel anger and resentment as they listen to their children describe or show them values and beliefs that seem completely at odds with the values they have tried to instill in their children. This is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting teens. It can be almost impossible at times to simply recognize that as our children become adults they will choose their own path.

Parenting help with teenagers: Parental responsibilities and choices

Listening and understanding where our teens are coming from does not mean we should abdicate our parental responsibilities and simply capitulate because we understand what our teenager believes and how they feel. When we as parents learn to be open to understanding our adolescents while still being able to set clear boundaries and limits we find the balance between support and frustration for our kids. If all we do is frustrate our teenage children when they suggest some plan or scheme that seems foreign to us as parents, they will begin to not trust us at all. We have to find ways to negotiate and reach compromises with our teens without losing respect for ourselves as concerned and loving parents. Teenagers can be master manipulators but only if we let them and we don’t do our due diligence.

When our adolescent children come up with some hairbrained scheme that all of their friends parents reportedly support, we have a few different choices we can make. The first is we merely go along because we don’t want an argument. Our teenager may have proven that as parents we are spineless wonders but it’s ok because they will also tell us how much they love us for giving in. However, when we do cave in so easily the question becomes do our teenagers really respect us?

The second choice we have as parents is we can contact these other parents and try to find out if they really do support said hairbrained scheme and if so why. Usually they will not all be in agreement but sometimes maybe there is something other parents see that we are missing.Many times other parents have told their children they will think about it just to avoid an argument. Some teenagers consider this the same as a yes. I have no idea how this happens. Maybe it is lost in translation while they are traveling through space. Either way it is always a good idea to follow up when our teenagers claim so and so's parents said such and such.

The third option might be to negotiate some compromise middle ground where we encourage our teenager to surrender some aspect of the hairbrained scheme (this usually involves giving up some over night, unsupervised component of said scheme). Our teenagers will usually fight tooth and nail on this but when it comes down to the compromise option or nothing at all, they will sometimes surprise us and actually accept the compromise.

The fourth choice is to lay out our reasons against the scheme in a rational way and explain why the scheme is at odds with our values as parents and as a family. Because we have listened carefully and thought about it by looking at all of the pros and cons, we can then let our teenage child know that as parents we will be drawing the line on this one. The key to being able to use choice number four is that we only use it when we really have to and our teenager believes we are moderately reasonable parents. Yes they will have friends whose parents have already had a spinal-ectomy but our spines will still intact when we draw the line and hopefully our teenagers will respect that.

Parenting help with teenagers: Mom and Dad vs the volcano

The whole point of listening and trying to understand our teenagers is to avoid the volcano scenario. Many teenagers are capable of moderate to huge emotional explosions. This can arise from a combination of forces in their lives, many of which the parent has little or no awareness. There may be problems with friends, issues at school, or sometimes they simply aren’t eating properly and getting reasonable amounts of sleep. As parents we don’t want to unnecessarily add any extra tectonic collisions that will only serve to increase the pressure that leads to the explosion. Sometimes we need to merely back off and avoid the debate or discussion and table it for another time. This is often referred to as the 24 hour rule.

For example, we can apply the 24 hour principle when our teenager comes home on a Wednesday after school and informs us that they will be driving to Mexico on the weekend for a tour of Tequila factories with their friends. While we know this won’t be happening we also know that our immediate response will likely be way to negative and we also know that our teenager is often more irritable and cranky after school. They may want to debate the plan immediately but as parents we decide to table it for the next night sometime after dinner.Having time to plan out our strategy is always better than just reacting because teenagers seem to sometimes thrive on the emotional energy of conflict.

There may simply be too many times in the life of teenage children where our initial response will not be helpful. If we respond to what we believe is an irrational or unreasonable request with ridicule, outrage, or some other unproductive negative response we will only further alienate our teenagers. As much as we are able we need to let our own volcano remain dormant so that  potential teenage geological explosion remain less likely. The volcanic reaction is always a potential problem when dealing with our teenagers. As parents we need to find ways to avoid contributing to these explosions. At times we  can mess by being poor role models and exploding ourselves. It can be a struggle but we need to find ways to remain calm and reasonable with our sense of humor in tact, even when the things our teenagers say and do sometimes confirm our suspicions that aliens do in fact live among us.

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