5 Tips for Parenting Adolescents: Part 2

By: Matt Sandford, LMHC

In part 1, we looked at the influence of stress on our parenting and some ways to relieve and manage it. Here is tip number 2.


2.    Examine how you handle negativity

·         Here’s a shocking statement: adolescents can be negative sometimes. And dramatic. Or they could demonstrate this by going the other way and withdrawing. And when this happens, what do you usually do? Do you turn negative yourself, getting on their case about their negativity? How does that usually turn out?! Or do you throw up your hands internally and withdraw or avoid them? Most of us have a hard time being around negative people. They drag us down over time, and they resist being cheered up or redirected. So, what are some healthier options?

·         First, go back to point one and address your self care and your stress level, so that you can be more present for the person you would like to help and invest in. After all, working with anyone just so you can feel better is a recipe for resentment and increased frustration. Helping needs to be about their best interest. That’s real love.

·         When you are ready, go to your child with curiosity and plan to listen. Not the listening that you may have often given, in which you are preparing your response or your lecture while they speak. No, this kind of listening is about learning to listen underneath the words to the emotional content. Hear the words, but go deeper and find the meaning. Ask questions, but not the kind of questions that feel accusatory or belittling, “Why did you say that?”, “Why didn’t you turn it in?” No, these kind of questions ask, “What was that like for you?”, “What did you think they meant when they said that?” or “What happened next?” What does the experience they are telling you about mean to them? This is about inviting them into a safe relationship with you, where they can learn that you are not going to judge them or overlook their concerns. If they have not experienced this from you often enough it may take some time for them to get that you have changed and now want to really know them.

·         As they open up to you, they will reveal negative thoughts, foolish understandings and misguided or untrue beliefs. And when they do, you can now stomp them out! Crush them, right?! Well, I rather like the description of Jesus as a reply to such a perspective, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” - Matthew 12:20. We are so tempted at these moments to correct, to offer our wisdom. But be discerning. Many times advice is not really what is needed, certainly not as much as we feel the need to provide. There will definitely be a place for direction and guidance; they absolutely need it and need it from you above any other. But, you must first show them that you are listening and that you believe in them, and you can’t establish that in them if your default is to tell and correct. Those approaches speak volumes to your child. The message you send at those times is, “I don’t believe you can figure things out. I don’t believe you are smart enough or resourceful enough, and you need someone to hold your hand.” By the way, can you see how someone who receives messages like this may end up with a tendency towards negative thinking? Just stick with asking open-ended questions in a way that invites them to examine their own assumptions and conclusions.

·         What about the teen who shuts down and withdraws? You have tried to pursue them to ask questions, and all you get are one or two word replies or mumbles, and then they go off to their room or out to be with friends. One question I have is: are they behaving this way because they have experienced you as unsafe, which means there is work to be done to remake this perception they have of you. But, a big part of adolescence also means struggling with all kinds of things that you don’t understand and don’t know how to talk about. So, when your teen is not talking, focus on being inviting by being observant and on making guesses that invite them in. When your teen isn’t giving you anything with their words, look for other cues – what’s going on in their friendships, their academics, their free time, their body language and dress, and what is important to them? And then make conjectures. Not as judgmental statements but as guesses. “I’ve noticed that you have not had any phone calls from your friend; has something happened?” “You have seemed rather down when you get home from school lately; I am wondering if you are frustrated in math these days?”


Tip number three will be coming soon, and it is about the “C” word - control.


Matt W.  Sandford, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor


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