In the movies, teenagers are all estranged from their parents, sullen, prone to one-word answers, and typically found hiding out in their bedrooms, surrounded by their possessions. While there’s an element of truth to this portrayal, the fact is that what most teenagers really seek is a sympathetic listener, not isolation.
I know this first hand as I have three children, the youngest of which is 17. I’ve made it a habit to listen respectfully to her concerns, complaints, and thoughts about her life and the world around us. As a Dad I’ll suggest that this is particularly difficult; being from Mars (as they say) we Dads are programmed to find solutions. Share a challenge in your life and before you can even finish your story, we’re offering up solutions!
The problem is that while solutions are useful and can help, they aren’t necessarily what’s needed when someone confides in you. Whether it’s a poor grade on a test, a disagreement with a bestie, or angst about a party invitation or college tour, the best strategy for any teen parent – of any gender – is to S.U.A.L.
To spell that out, it’s always a good idea to shut up and listen.
You can offer nods, grunts, and an occasional “ugh” or “sounds rough” or “sucks”, but that’s it. In doing so, you are reflecting back to affirm that you’ve heard what they’ve said. You can simply acknowledge that you hear them, rather than being the sponge to their tsunami of emotions.
This, of course, is an excellent tactic in all of your relationships. After all, don’t we all want to be heard and affirmed that what we are finding rough, upsetting, and challenging actually is pretty tough stuff?
Don’t worry Dads, there’s a time and a place for solutions too. But you’d be surprised just how startled – and pleased – your teen will be if you ask “I have some thoughts on what you could try to alleviate that. Wanna hear them?” instead of just blasting them with your superior wisdom and insight.
I actually have a close relationship with my kids and particularly with my teen daughter, who has lived with me full time for almost all of her teen years. I am savvy to the fact that I don’t understand either a young woman’s journey through adolescence or, for that matter, this generation’s experience of growing up in the 2000’s, post-9/11, during a pandemic, and in a world where our digital universe is omnipresent. So instead of offering useless advice based on my teen experience from eons ago, I listen and think about what she says. Sometimes I even admit that I have no idea how to proceed or solve a particular problem, something that she appreciates. I don’t go down a notch in her estimation, either, but instead find she appreciates my candor.
Also keep in mind that one of the toughest realities of parenting is that it’s all about modeling; your teens are closely watching how you engage with the world and interact with individuals. If it’s out of sync with their worldview, well, that’s going to be tough. But what a wonderful conversation to have as each of you explain your logic and perspective to the other.
Finally, remember that even at 13 or 14, your offspring views themselves as a chronologically challenged young adult, not a child. We parents often fall into the trap of seeing our children as a few years younger than they really are, but respect their views and opinions, ask their advice, and you might just find that you’re nurturing a strong, effective parent/teenager relationship that’ll be the envy of their friends.
Need some tools to learn how to do that? The State of Colorado has ya covered with its terrific Forward Together site. Check out all the many resources at Parents.ForwardTogetherCO.com. And don’t forget to explore my own parenting blog here at GoFatherhood too; I’ve been writing about my parenting journey since my kids were born.
Disclosure: This post was created as part of a paid partnership with Forward Together. Learn more about the project here.