What’s Going On? My Teen Seems So Far Away!

One of the barriers to communication is the naturally occurring distancing that takes place during adolescence. Communication during the teen years can be especially challenging because of the rapid changes that occur in their physical bodies and social worlds.  The first thing to remember is that as your child moves through the teen years, he/she will become more private. Teens often move toward writing in their journal, hiding in their bedroom, and holding private conversations with friends via text or instant message. Recently, a mom who was trying to monitor her teen’s use of Facebook and cell phone told me, “My 12-year old hates it when I am in her business. The other day she screamed ‘Don’t read my texts! That is just weird. I don’t want you to see my private conversations!’”

Think back to your own adolescence. Were there certain things that you really didn’t want to talk to your parents about? How did you decide what to share and what to keep to yourself? The truth is, most often teen are not trying to be devious or dishonest; they are simply in the process of separating themselves from their parents. While it is important to remember that this individuation is part of how teens develop their identity and become their own person, it is also important to remember that sometimes you have to interject yourself into their world to keep them safe and healthy.  This requires paying a lot of attention to what is going on in your teen’s life. Everything from school, friends, and activities to feelings, moods, and actions is important. You know it is time to intervene when you sense that something is wrong, or suspect that your teen is holding something that could put him/her in danger.

Certainly, too much distancing can have other negative impacts on your relationship by removing opportunities to share and connect with one another. Remember that giving your teen space is not the same as staying out of the way completely.  Even though increased independence can reduce the amount of one-on-one time you have with your child, it does not have to translate to zero time or poor communication.  Part of parenting is being able to find the balance between giving children room to grow, while also establishing a safe environment with rules for behavior that match your beliefs and values.

The difficult part of this life stage is that these changes take place at the same time that your teen requires lots of guidance and monitoring to navigate new freedoms and opportunities. Teens need continued structure, attention, reassurance, and love from their parents as they try to find their way.  Often times, your life experience will help you to recognize when your child needs you.  Remember, sometimes teens will push their parents away so that they will pull them closer. Let your teen know that you pay attention because of your love and your ability to use the knowledge, experience, and the resources you have gathered over time to help them grow and develop.  Your teen will be more likely to share with you when the message is “I can help you” versus “You are going to be in trouble”.

Finally, don’t take it personally when your teen is quiet and distant. Focus on taking advantage of the opportunities you get to make connections and show interest in them. If these opportunities do not come frequently enough, create the space you need to interact in such a way that you have more opportunities. The virtual world we live in, and the ease with which teens use cell phones and other technology, opens up new doors for connection. Regardless of your means of communication, reaching out to your child says, “My mom/dad thinks of me. My mom/dad loves me”.  Staying in touch while being compassionate and understanding of your teen’s need for independence can go a long way in building understanding and trust between the two of you.

Other things to consider in maintaining a connection with your child during this phase:

  • Share aspects of yourself with your teen.  This can prompt your teen to share in return.
  • Be creative about how you interact with one another. Find ways to communicate regularly. You may have to schedule something a trip to the coffee shop on the way to school or a weekly lunch outing.
  • Make your communication engaging by talking about things he/she enjoys. Help your teen see that you are not prying or snooping, rather you are interested in who they are as a person.
  • Take personal responsibility for creating a loving relationship with your child. Making your teen feel like he/she is responsible can backfire, or make your child feel burdened with guilt, uncertainty, and/or sadness.
  • If you feel it in your gut, there is probably something going on that you need to know about. Your knowing could keep your teen safe, or give you an opportunity to you’re your teen make an informed decision or better choice.  Don’t be afraid to be up front with your child about your concern.
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Practical Tips for Parenting Children of All Ages Through Divorce

Whether you are going through a divorce, or you know someone who is, this information can help you understand what children of divorce need from their parents and other adults in their lives.   You can either use this information yourself, or share it with those who are seeking tips for helping their children through this transition.  Adolescence is already a tumultuous time. It is a time when your children are trying to understand themselves as they experience major growth in all areas of their lives: physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally, and morally. And, parenting teens is already a challenging task. It is a task that requires insight and understanding. It challenges us to put our own “stuff” aside and focus on what is best for the healthy development of our child. Divorce can take these “normal” challenges to a whole new level

Being present to what your child needs in the face of your own heartbreak, grief and/or anger is easier said then done. Regardless of divorce, life keeps parents busy with things like family, work, school, relationships, and health and well-being. Sometimes in the midst of all this, parents are faced with other major life transitions like moving to a new home or switching jobs.  In fact, it is common for divorce to spark multiple transitions as parents attempt to reinvent themselves and reestablish their life.

Raising teens through divorce is one of my main areas of interest and research, specifically having a healthy parent-child relationship after divorce.  This requires understand the impact of divorce and your role in helping them cope with divorce at different ages. With the help of one of my students, Kimberly Baker, the following information is intended to give you information about (1) What they know, (2) How they feel, and (3) What you can do. While this is a blog on teens, the following chart includes infants, toddlers, and early childhood as well.

What They Understand

How They Feel

What You can Do About It

Preteens & Adolescents

Teens understand what divorce means and accept it as final. The older they are, the more they recognize that both parents played a role in the marriage and in the divorce. They may:- Feel abandoned,

– Withdrawal from their friends,

– Act in uncharacteristic ways,

– Challenge their beliefs about love, marriage, and family,

– Feel like they had to grow up too fast. (For example they may take on adult responsibilities or worry about things like money).

– Maintain open lines of communication.- Stay involved in their lives – know their friends, interests, and hobbies.

– Be engaged in their schooling.

– Honor or create family rituals and routines (Sunday dinner, weekend movie night, or cooking together).

– Teach contribution and responsibility through age appropriate chores.

– Do NOT use your teen as a confidant. Talk to other adults instead.

– Be careful introducing new partners to your teen. Make sure to consider their feelings and avoid surprises.

 

Preschool & Early Childhood

They recognize that their family has changed and that one parent no longer lives in the home. The older they get, the more they can accept that their parents will not get back together. They may:- Blame themselves,

– Worry about the changes they are experiencing in day-to-day life,

– Be sad or even have nightmares,

– Be aggressive toward the parent they blame.

– Hold hopes that their parents will get back together.

 

– Repeatedly tell them that they are NOT responsible for the divorce.- Reassure them that their needs will be met, regardless of which parent is present.

– Talk about and be accepting of ALL thoughts and feelings.

– Plan time for children to be with both parents if possible. Support the child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent.

– Read books together about children and divorce.

– Gently remind children that divorce is final.

 

Toddlers

Toddlers recognize that one parent is no longer at home. They may express empathy toward others, such as a parent who is feeling sad. They may:- Have difficulty separating from parents,

– Express anger toward a parent(s),

– Lose some skills (like toilet training),

– Revert to old behaviors (like thumb sucking),

– Experience problems with naptime or daily routines,

– Have nightmares.

– Spend more time with children during times of separation (For example: spend an extra ten minutes at daycare).- Physically and verbally reassure them of your love.

– Be understanding of your child’s distress. Recognize that old behaviors (like thumb sucking) may reappear for a short period of time, but will go away again with love and support.

– Talk with other important adults and caregivers about how they can best support your child.

Infants

Infants notice changes in their parent’s energy. Older infants realize one parent no longer lives in the home. They may:- Be more irritable,- Cry or fuss more often,

– Experience changes in sleep patterns,

– Experience changes in other daily routines (naps, eating, etc.).

– Keep the infants schedule as normal as possible.- Use physical and verbal affection to reassure your infant of your continued presence.

– Keep your infant’s favorite toys, blanket, and stuffed animals close by for comfort.

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Hearing Is Not the Same as Listening to Your Teen

It is just another Monday.  A mom takes her kids to school, does a few hours of work, runs an errand, and then heads back to the school to pick her kids up at the end of the day. She arrives at the junior high and her daughter is about 20 minutes late. Then, she rushes straight to the  high school to pick up your 9th grader. He gets in the car and starts barking! He is upset that she is 15 minutes late, annoyed that his sister is sitting in the front seat, and mad that he has to go to his aunt’s house for dinner that evening.  Mom recognizes that he is upset and says, “How was your day? Are you ok?” He responds with No! I am not ok! AND, I don’t want to talk about it!” Noticing how upset he is, she decides to sit quietly. Unfortunately, he keeps going. He starts drilling her about being late. “You are always late!  I should just take the bus to school!”  Then, he moves onto his sister. “Why are you sitting in the front seat!?! You know I sit in the front seat!” At this point, your daughter says, “I don’t know why you think you’re so special that you always get the front seat!” There is nothing to do but to declare silence in the car.  She say, “Clearly there are some bad feeling in the car. I think it is best if we don’t talk to one another until we get home.”  So, she drove the remaining 10 minutes in silence and everyone separated to different corners of the house when they got home.

What can she do now? Certainly, this mom could hear how upset her son was when she picked him up from school. How can she listen in such a way that she can understand why he was upset.   First she needs to check her intentions. In other words, why is she interested in listening to her son? To LISTEN BEYOND HEARING involves having one or more of the following intentions:

  1. Being truly interested or enjoying what the other person is saying
  2. Trying to understand someone
  3. Hoping to learn something
  4. Comforting or helping someone
Several, if not all of these intentions could be present for the mother in our example.  Now, lets consider what people do when they are not listening. Don’t feel too bad if you notice that you have had one or more of these intentions in the past. The reason this list exists is because everyone is a poor listener at one time or another. Often, when someone is NOT LISTENING, the person is:
  • Preparing for what to say next
  • Listening for a certain things and ignoring the rest of the conversations
  • Listening for the purpose of talking, rather than to hear the other person
  • Listening because of  obligation  (i.e. being nice, trying to gain their interest/affection, or feeling stuck – you don’t know how to exit the conversation)
  • Listening for the other person’s weaknesses or vulnerabilities
  • Trying to be right: listening for ammunition or weak points in the other person’s argument
Outside of having good intentions, it is important to think about how you are listening. Being a good listener is not about simply sitting in silence and nodding your head.  Effective listening involves using active listening skills. When you are using these skills, you:
  • Pay attention to body language
  • Paraphrase what the other person said so that you can be sure you understood it correctly
  • Clarify what has been said. This is similar to paraphrasing, but you ask questions like: “Did you mean…? Did you say…? Have I understood you right?”
  • Give feedback. After you have paraphrased and clarified, you can share your own senses, thoughts, feelings, reactions in a non-jugemental way.
Going back to our example, what could this mother say to her son.  She may approach her son and say something like, “I can tell your really upset. I am sensing that something happened at school. Is that right?” Her son may say “yes” and continue sharing. He may say “no” and begin clarifying. Or, he may need more prompting. Active listening often requires calmly investigating what is really going on.  “I can tell you are really sad by the look on your face. Is there anything that I can do to help you.” As is often the case, the boy in this story was not upset about his mom being late, or his sister sitting in the front seat of the car. It turns out, the boy failed a test that day, and found out that his ex-girlfriend [who he still cared for] was dating someone else.  These are things most of us would be upset about. Sometimes teens simply cannot fully recognize or control their emotions. In part this is because the emotional part of the brain is very active, while the frontal lobe that controls logical thinking and self-regulation is not fully developed.  The trick is to not take it personally, give yourself the time you need to be present, and then listen compassionately to what your teen is saying. Often, your teen will walk away from that conversation feeling truly heard and ready to move forward.

Stand By Teens When They Make Mistakes

Recently, I shared some bad news with a  good friend of mine and she sent me this video. The video served two purposes: (1) She wanted me to know that she would stand by me through the hard times and (2) she wanted to communicate how important it was for me to stand by others.  Her sharing was a real gift to me. Instantly, I thought of how important it is to “stand by” our teens.  It is much easier to stand by them when they do something great. However, it is in the times that they struggle, or make a mistake that they need it the most.  Check out this video, and then lets look at how we can stand by our teens and coach them through their mistakes.

Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Most adults have experienced heart break, hurt a friend’s feelings, or told a white lie.  Some have gotten a speeding ticket, failed an exam, or lost a job.  The reality is that we are human, and we have all made mistakes.  Along with those mistakes, we have had to live with the consequences of our actions.  Think back to the mistakes you’ve made.  How did you feel? My guess is that  you knew you made a mistake and felt pretty bad about it.  In reality, we are often our own worst critics.

Sometimes parents forget that our teens are much like adults. They know when they have made a mistake and sometimes get defensive when someone points it out.   Teens can feel a range of emotions including sadness, embarrassment,  and disappointment in themselves.  They are often scared to tell mom and dad, afraid of the punishment, and worried about what people will think of them.

So, how can you coach your teens through mistakes? Let’s start with what your teen does not need. Avoid rescuing your teens from making mistakes. Rescuing does a few things. First, it  tells teens that they should not make mistakes.  This can lead teens to have performance anxiety or feel unrealistic pressures to be perfect.  When adults jump in, it also  communicates that they are not capable of taking care of the situation themselves.  This takes away opportunities for them to build self-confidence and learn from their mistakes. The other thing parents can avoid is lecturing teens.  Lecturing does not help teens, especially when they already recognize and feel bad about their mistake.  Often times, lecturing leads teens to shut down and stop listening.

Your teen does need to hear that you will stand by them.  Being supportive is not the same as excusing their behavior.  Along with the appropriate consequence, it is important to have a conversation with your teen about what happened, what they made it mean, and what they are going to do about it.  When you take the time to listen, you get an opportunity to hear what is really going on in their head. When they feel heard, they are more likely to be open to your thoughts or suggestions. Outside of being a good listening, your job is to ask good questions.  Here are some questions that can help you coach your teen through his/her mistakes:

  • What’s up?
  • Let’s talk about it? I’m all ears.
  • Why do you think this happened?
  • How can you make this better for you?
  • What do you wish you had done differently?
  • What is really important to you? Why?
  • What are you going to do about it?
  • Who might you want to talk to about this?
  • Please say more so that I can really understand.
  • How do you want to move forward?

You may be surprised how much head nods and words like uh-huh, yeah, I see, etc., will prompt your teen to keep talking. As they share, reflect back to them:

  • Can I tell you what I am hearing?
  • Did I understand this right?
  • I heard you say….. is that what you meant?

You may have some important things to share after you have listened to what you teen has to say.  Keep in mind that the idea is to help them deal with their mistakes without telling them what to do.  The teen years are a time to practice good decision-making and problem solving.  These questions may open the door for you to share your thoughts without sounding like you are taking over or giving too much advice.

  • How can I help?
  • Can I share a different way of looking at this?
  • Can I give you a suggestion?
  • I have some ideas. Would you like to hear them?
  • I have seen this before. Can I share some things that have helped others?

Sometimes, teens make mistakes that need a lot more adult intervention.  Try this if you want to provide more guidance but you still want the conversation to be inviting to your  teen.

I would like to talk about something really important, and I am not really sure how to talk to you about it? Will you help me work it out?

Finally, it is important to encourage your teen to apologize when he/she makes a mistake. Apologies are as much for the person apologizing as they are for the one receiving it.  When teens apologize, they are able to come clean for their mistake and ask for forgiveness.  It is in that moment that they can accept the mistake as  an event, instead of something that defines them. Not apologizing can leave teens making assumptions about what someone thinks, feels or believes about them. If a teen take these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on as being real, they can become a part of how the teen defines him/herself.  It may be helpful for you to share a story or two about apologies that you have made.  This will help them see that they are not alone in making mistakes.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Your Teen Was Born Vulnerable & Imperfect

I have heard a lot of parents say, “Being a parent has taught me how to be a better person.” Why is it that our children are often the ones that push us to grow as individuals? What does it look like, to be a better person? Parents tell me that they became a better person because parenting inspired them to be more patient, authentic, observant, and aware of themselves. Many shared a commitment to self-improvement.

A friend of mine once said, “teens need us to protect them from themselves.” We enter the world of parenting with an huge sense of responsibility, and we learn very quickly that our children will look to us as models for what it means to be human. Teens need our guidance to stay safe, be thoughtful, live with purpose, develop work ethics, show compassion, and engage with others in a way that shows they can take responsibility for themselves and for their contributions to the world.

The following video is not just about parenting a teen, it is about what the author, Brene Brown, would call being whole hearted. She keeps it light and funny as she talks about what it is like to live life with courage and to accept that we are all vulnerable and imperfect. She reminds us that being a “good parent” is not about having perfect teens, it is about having teens who feel worthy. This video is longer than what I would usually post. However, I think the next 20 minutes will be well worth your time. You might even find yourself watching it more than once!

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments after viewing this video. How did you relate to what she shared? How does all of this apply to our parenting?

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Give Me Five Minutes and Two Words: Therapy for You & Your Teen

Sometimes a little humor can go a long way! This last weekend, one of my counseling students shared this video with me and it made me laugh. It also made me think of raising teens. When I returned home, I shared this video with my own two teens. Jokingly I said, “Should I give this technique a try at home?” They both laughed and said, “As long as we can use it too!” I suspect there may be times in the future when we pull this one out of our bag of tricks just to lighten things up a bit!

On a more serious note, it is not uncommon for parents of teens to want their teen to just listen and do what they have asked them to do. Have you ever wished you could just say, “Stop It!” and your teen would just stop; stop leaving lights on in every room, stop hanging out with someone, stop leaving their bike outside all night, stop procrastinating in school, or stop coming home late. Of course every teen is different and every parent faces different challenges in helping their teen develop into a thoughtful and responsible young adult.

The problem is that as teens get older, they need to develop their own identity, one with the values, beliefs, and self-expression that is uniquely theirs. This helps to explain why “Stop It!” by itself doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to see certain situations as learning opportunities, ones in which teens can make their own decisions and live with the consequences. Other times, our teens need us to hold a hard, firm boundary and say “Stop It” or “Absolutely Not”!  Experts say that the most effective style of parenting is one that combines clear rules and expectations with being responsive, warm, and nurturing.   Using this style results in teens who grow into happy, capable and successful adults.

This may sound logical, or even easy to implement. The problem is that we don’t respond to situations like robots or machines.  In actuality, we are a lot more thoughtful about how we respond and we don’t always get it to right.  But, how can this be when the suggestions for “effective” parenting are so clear and our intentions are so genuine.   Let’s look at some of the things that influence how we, as parents, handle different situations.

  • We are emotional beings. Because our teens are one of our most important investments, we want to do it right. This desire can lead to being too harsh on our teens and then overly critical of our parenting.
  • We have experience.  We want to protect our teens from the things we have learned from our experiences.  This inhibits teens from having their own experiences.
  • We assign meaning.  We interpret situations and believe that our interpretations are the “truth”.  This leads to making assumptions instead of asking our teen to share with us.
  • We speak from our perspective.  We talk to them as if they have the same knowledge and understanding we have of the world.  We wish that we could impart our knowledge on them, while our teens want to figure it out themselves.
  • We want their love. We want a close relationship with our children. This can lead to protecting them, rather than letting them live with the natural consequences of their choices.
  • We get busy.  Sometimes when our teens need our attention the most, we are distracted or too busy to listen.  This can lead to having less communication, or even feeling disconnected from our teens’ lives.

The end goal is to be nurturing and responsive at the same time that we establish clear rules, guidelines, and expectations for appropriate conduct.  But, it is important to remember that knowing this doesn’t mean that it will be easy.   There will be times when we feel as though we have been too harsh or not harsh enough. Focus on “getting it right” as much as you can, and practice being patient with yourself. If you find yourself being too critical of yourself, just “Stop It!” Focusing on the past doesn’t allow you to move forward.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Are Teens Really Wild Animals?

My first test of being responsible for another living thing happened when I was in college. I received a Black Labrador Retriever from another college student who had purchased this full-bred, papered puppy before realizing that “Having a puppy is a lot of work!” His lanky body and big feet made him goofy and his playful free spirit made him extremely cute! As endearing as this 10 week old puppy was, he had a lot to learn about life and I had a lot to learn about being his mom! He had to learn to go to the bathroom outside, listen when he was called and refrain from chewing everything in sight! I had to learn how to teach him these things.

Looking back on this experience, I realize there are some parallels between raising a puppy and raising a teen. Both have a lot to learn about life, both get away with things occasionally because they are so cute, and both need consistent rules, boundaries and affection to grow up. One of the first things I did was get my dog, Cassidy, a kennel. He spent all of his alone time in this kennel; he even slept in it at night. This helped him learn not to chew or go to the bathroom inside. However, the true test of his learning would come when he got to stay home alone, without having to be in his kennel. It was at that point that I would know if I could really trust him. Don’t we experience this same realization with our teens? We can only know that they have learned and that we can trust them when we let them loose to face the world and make their own decisions.

When Cassidy was six months old, I decided it was time. He had graduated to having the freedom to roam the apartment for a few hours at a time. From this experience, I learned some pretty important things that can be related to raising teens. First, I learned that Cassidy liked his kennel. His cozy little den was comfortable, safe, and predictable. Most of the time, he was in his kennel when I got home, even though he was no longer restricted. Teens are not all that different. Teens need their home to be comfortable, safe, and predictable. Even though they may argue differently, setting rules and expectations for behavior and following through with consequences gives them a sense of security. If home is not comfortable, safe and predictable, where can teens go to gain a sense of control in the midst of their chaotic life?

I also learned that bored puppies make for naughty puppies. Cassidy stayed out of trouble when there were toys for him to play with and bones for him to chew. Teens also need ways to stay busy. As they get older and increasingly independent, they need an appropriate balance of extracurricular activities and leisure time. Every teen wants down time, but too much down time can be troublesome. It robs them of the opportunity to develop confidence and skills and creates a setting where they can make bad choices in an effort to fill their time.

Finally, I learned that Cassidy got in trouble when something new was introduced to his safe and structured environment. One of his first adventures out of his kennel was spoiled by a “care package” that my mom sent me. True to form, this package was filled with laundry soap, homemade cookies, and other goodies and necessities. Cassidy ate all the cookies, which obviously had a “negative” impact on his behavior. Who knew a 6 month old puppy could completely destroy a lazy-boy chair! Our teens are going to be introduced to new things all the time and there is no way that we can predict every scenario. However, we can pay attention, consider possibilities, and do our best to prepare them for the unexpected. Teens also need to know that their parents don’t expect them to know everything. They feel great relief when they know they can call on a parent for help and guidance. Our role is to be both available and approachable so that our teens can ask for help anytime they feel unsure or unsafe. I’ve known many teens that have said things like: “I felt so much better after I told my dad everything” and “I was relieved when I told my mom and was no longer alone in dealing with my problems”

It is absurd to say that raising a dog is just like raising a teen. We all know that the stakes are quite a bit higher with teens. Still, pets often provide the first context for us to learn about being responsible for another living thing. How we love and discipline our pets has an impact on the kind of pet they become. It may be fun for you to think about your experiences with animals, consider other parallels, and share a story with us!