THE BLOG

The Magic Formula for Dealing With Your Teens 'Pom-Poms, Tissues or Toolbox?'

07/29/2014 12:27 pm ET | Updated Sep 28, 2014
  • Barbara Greenberg Clinical Psychologist featured on CNN, Good Morning America and ABC Nightline

Sometimes we need to be cheered on. Other times we need tissues. And yet other moments call for something from our figurative toolbox. Right, parents? Let me help you in every possible way by letting you know that your teens too need these three magic responses from you. Let's refer to them as "pom-poms, tissues or toolbox." I have not invented this magic formula. It is your delightfully creative teens who have shared this information with me in my consultation room. They are clear and confident about what they need. The problem, of course, is that they don't always know how to communicate this with you -- their biggest supporters and their ever-loving but often bewildered parents.

I, too, raised a teen. And, yes many times I too got things completely wrong. Yes, my darling Amanda would sometimes run to her room after I responded to her in the most clumsy way. And, in my practice and from my friends I have heard hundreds of similar stories. It goes something like this: Parent ask their teens what they are upset about and countless teens storm up to their rooms and slam doors because they feel misunderstood and/or because they are not getting what they need. Or, you make a suggestion to your teen and you get accused of treating your kid like an incompetent child. The list is endless. I'm sorry to all the teens out there from all of the parents but we were just struggling to do the best we could. I, like other parents of teens, also needed a little guidance. No one, psychologist or otherwise, is immune from the trials and tribulations of being a parent to a teen. Next time your teen is hanging around you or just seems out of sorts I suggest that you use a code of sorts. Ask your teen if s/he needs pom-poms, tissues or a toolbox. You see we often make the incorrect assumption that our teens need and want the wrong thing at the wrong time and hence interactions go dreadfully awry.

I suggest that the next time your distressed looking teen appears to need something ask her if she needs support, a good cry or a problem-solving skill. The shortcut here is the "pom-poms, tissues, toolbox" question. I have always been a fan of conversational shorthand and the teens seem to love it too. With teens, the mantra less is more certainly seems to apply. Parents -- we all know that the more questions you ask, the less likely you are to get your teens talking. Once you get your teens to answer the magical (in my opinion) question keep them talking by remaining calm. Keep listening without interrupting unless they ask for the toolbox intervention. In that case, first ask the teen what they think a good tool or problem-solving skill might be and then suggest some of your own. The emphasis here is on the word suggest.

I wish you magical moments and seamless interactions with your kids but know, of course, that your journey will be a tricky one. I will continue to suggest ideas to make the journey a bit less treacherous. Good luck.

With love & respect,
Dr. G.