As many of us have heard by now, men and women come from different planets; Mars and Venus, respectively. This insight has opened the door to a new world of understanding and connection. Men and women think, speak and act differently. Embracing this fact clears the way for fewer bumps and faster solutions, not to mention far better relationships.
I'd like to add another planet to our solar equation.
Teens, as much if not more than your average adult, are from a different planet, too. This probably doesn't come as a shock to many parents. There's just one problem: Those parents ignore this fact every chance they get.
Parents communicate with their teens as if they shared a brain. They make logical requests, logical arguments and rebuttals. Logical to them, that is, and they expect instant understanding in return. But they don't share brains. They don't even share the same language. Teens are a different breed with a different perspective. This difference, and a parent's inability to appreciate that difference, causes many of the problems I witness in my private practice. To improve the situation and repair the relationship between parent and teen, I offer the following advice.
1. Recognize Reality
When you want to speak to your teen, when they're acting up or out, when they're driving you mad, the first step is to recognize the reality into which you're entering. You're engaging with someone from a different planet, with a different map of the world and a different language. Just as wonders have been worked by recognizing the differences between men and women, the same benefits await with your teen.
2. Listen Sincerely
Armed with your new attitude, listen to your teen. Truly listen. I'm not talking about making eye contact while mentally preparing your next sentence. I'm talking about soaking up their words and letting each one step into your mind unblocked. Have you ever been really listened to? Amazing feeling, isn't it? Not only will doing so make your teen feel that way, but it will allow for smoother communication and mutual understanding.
3. Adapt Your Perspective
You accept the fact that your teen isn't from your planet and you're keeping your mouth firmly closed in an effort to actively listen to what they have to say. Great job, Mom or Dad. Next, I need you to swish their words around in your mind free from your inner critic. It's only natural to tear apart their counter-argument; in an almost knee-jerk reaction, many parents have an answer to their teen's every move. I want you to be different and to see things from their perspective. Time has made it difficult to step back into a teen's shoes, but the more you can remember what it was like to be in the chaos of adolescence, the better you'll be at reaching your teen where they live.
4. Confirm What You Hear
Great communication requires true understanding, so instead of assuming you know what they're saying, get confirmation. "If I'm hearing what you're saying, you think/want/need..." Such a response shows your children that you're really listening and that you have a sincere desire to understand them. That alone can diffuse even the most stressful of situations. But that isn't the main benefit. When you confirm, you may find that your assumptions were wrong, giving your teen the chance to clear up the confusion.
The steps above combine to do one thing: teach you a new language. With this skill in hand, you can respond to your teen in a way that reaches them, that makes more sense than a response from a parent who "just doesn't understand." This isn't to say your teen has the freedom to say and do whatever they choose; you're still the parent. It means you and your teen will, perhaps for the first time, speak the same language.
If you play your cards right, they may just invite you to their planet.