When Your Teenager is Uncooperative
Recognize the Signs
“You are not dressed for school,” I said to my 13-year-old daughter, “It’s 8:15.” She looked at me with that blank stare only an overwhelmed thirteen-year old can give. I knew that look. Her four older sisters each had their own look when they were overwhelmed, and after a few times, I could tell. I knew, also, that in spite of what I had planned for that morning, it would be set aside.
When a teenager is having issues, the signs are usually visible. They include crying, moping, angry outbursts, withdrawal, and physical ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, or unusual body pains. When questioned, a teenager does not readily respond and appears to be uncooperative.
For parents, it is easy to tell a teenager to “straighten up.” I have learned from sad experience that this does not work. My thirteen-year-old required lots of love, patience, and listening. A teenager’s problems are never convenient, especially for the parent. The parent who chooses not to take the time when the troublesome behavior starts will have to take the time later in front of school officials, public officers, or health practitioners. Teens with issues do not get over their problems easily and the affects quickly spread to other areas of the teen’s life.
Work Through the Problem Solving Process
Reflective listening techniques work well to get the teen talking and keep them going until the root of the problem is discovered. Remember, neither the parent nor the teen knows what the root of the problem is; it takes both working together to find it. The following conversation is an example of reflective listening by the parent:
Parent: “You look frustrated, would you like to talk about it?”
Teen: “Oh, I don’t know.”
Parent: “I have some time, let’s sit down.”
Parent: “Having trouble at school?”
Parent: “You aren’t having trouble at school.”
Teen: “No. My stomach hurts.”
Parent: “You aren’t feeling well.”
Teen: “No. I want to stay home.”
Parent: “You don’t want to go to school.”
Teen: “I hate Phy Ed!”
Parent: “You don’t like your gym class.”
Teen: “The kids make fun of me. They laugh at me.”
Parent: “You feel embarrassed.”
Teen: “I’m always the last one picked for soccer, I hate Phy Ed!”
Parent: “You don’t like being the last one picked for the team.”
Teen: “I hate it, I feel so stupid! I can’t even play soccer!”
Parent: “You think that you aren’t very good at soccer.”
Teen: “Well, I guess I’m not terrible, I play soccer after school.”
Parent: “There are times you enjoy playing.”
Teen: “Yeah, but none of those people are in Phy Ed with me.”
Parent: “You don’t have any of your friends in your Phy Ed class.”
Teen: “Well, there is one other person I know, but he always gets picked last, too.”
Parent: “You are not totally lonely, then.”
Teen: “No, I guess not....Well, I gotta go, I’ll be late if I don’t hurry up.”
The beauty of reflective listening is that the teen eventually resolves the inner conflict. They see the parent as a friend and a helper. It increases the willingness to talk to the parent in the future with similar problems. The root of the above problem was that the teen felt lonely and that nobody in the Phy Ed class cared. At the end of the conversation, the teen realized that there was at least one other person who did care, and that was enough to give them confidence to go on. Some issues, however, are not solved this easily and take hours of reflective listening. In cases like these, the parent can ease the teen's fears by sharing specific incidents from their own past that might help the teen see possible solutions. The parent can also offer to help the teen research the problem.
Help Teens Become Terrific
Over the years, I have realized that my behavior as a parent has a definite affect on my family. Besides parental behavior being a source of trouble to the developing teenager, other sources include, but are not limited to: sibling rivalry, the stress of demanding schoolwork, projects due, peer relationships, unresolved conflict, money, and identity issues. The teen does not seek help due to inexperience.
Teens want to prove that they are capable of being an adult and taking care of personal matters. This desire to be independent far outweighs the desire to please parents. Besides, the teen does not see the benefits of asking for help. At this time, the teen’s view of the adult world is very limited.
Many times, I have been concerned because I have found my teens steering away from previously taught values during the reflective listening discussion. I have been tempted to take independence away from them, but in pursuing the issue, my teens tell me that they want the opportunity to talk about, analyze, and adopt the values for themselves. My reflective listening gives them room to make these decisions by analyzing all angles before making lifetime commitments.
Parents I know who encourage their teens to seek for answers to their questions find a sense of companionship in their teens. These teens carry on very lively discussions and seek for information from their parents and others who are significant to them. Wise parents and extended family members teach teenagers the things they need to prepare them for life on their own.
I have found that my troubled teens turn into terrific teens when I use the skill of reflective listening to help them find troublesome issues and resolve them. There are great benefits for parents who take the time to listen and communicate with their teens. They are teaching the skills teens need for success in life. The time spent together in these worthwhile activities builds unity and strength in the family and provides a foundation for enjoyable family relationships in the future.
© 2011 Denise W Anderson