Column: Calm conversation with your teenager
Whether we like it or not, we are constant role models for our children. Our children always watch our actions and listen to our words. What a high pressure job to have.
There are times when we are not the best parents, but that is to be expected. We are human just like our children. As parents, we often make mistakes and react negatively to everyday stressors. While life can get overwhelming at times, it’s important to remember that we always have a choice of how we react to frustrating situations.
Healthy stress management is an essential skill that children must develop. If we pretend that nothing is bothering us, we are wasting an opportunity to guide our child with useful and productive methods to deal with stress and discomfort. Our actions and choices as parents are the best learning tools for our children.
One of the key elements in helping developing adolescents is to provide a space for open and honest communication. It means staying calm even if what we hear is difficult to swallow or causes us some discomfort. Honesty is crucial because our children can sense when we are faking emotions or being insincere in a conversation, just as we can sense it in them.
When difficult conversations with your teenager arise, it’s okay to say something like, “Right now I’m so upset that I can’t make any decisions. I want to think instead of reacting. Or maybe something like, “We’ll talk when I’m ready.” I have to calm down first. Then go take care of yourself. Take the time to process your thoughts and feelings. Once you are ready, you can come back ready to support your teenager.
Staying calm is easy in theory, but it can be much more difficult in practice. Calm is crucial, however. A calm response strategically positions us to have the influence our children need as we guide them into adulthood.
By the time young people reach their late teens, they still don’t have the ability to make decisions as well as adults because their brains are still developing. When we use calm responses and an open mind, we create the opportunity to solve problems in a logical way. If we scream and howl, we are signaling to our child the need for emotional defense by tapping into the survival part of their brain.
By bringing calm to an intense situation, we allow our child to develop and practice thoughtful plans for dealing with difficult situations. We allow our teenager to thinkfully relate the short and long term consequences to their choices.
Although we may not agree with our teenager or approve of the choices they make, we can still express love and empathy. When we are angry with them, it is because of how deeply we love them. Their radically developing brains need reassurance that they are loved unconditionally, as their emotional sensors mature and are responsive to the reactions of others.
When we practice calm in our parenting role, we become more willing parents to work with our teenager. Young people talk to adults who listen. We have a hard job on our hands to raise a teenager, and while we will never be perfect, we can work to become trusted partners with our child.
Mary Haas, LSW, is the first youth social worker at Evansville Christian School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 64 Master-level social workers to 92 schools in 11 counties in Indiana. Over 60,000 youth and families are served each year through Youth First school social work and after-school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.