Coach your teenager
The teenage years can feel like a shocking transformation – a turning inside out of the mind and soul that makes the person unrecognizable from the child they once were, both to themselves and those around them. There are uncontrollable mood swings, identity crises, and the hunger for social recognition. There may be a sudden taste for risk and adventure – and seemingly a complete inability to think about the consequences of their actions. Of course, sometimes we tear our hair out over our teenage children!
The teenage brain
Like in a computer, it’s not just everything floating around behind the surface; the brain contains many organs, each with its own function. In the central area of the brain, we’ve got a cluster of smaller organs that we share with other mammals. Among these organs are amygdala and hippocampus, also known as the smoke detector and librarian. Th amygdala is what makes us turn to fight or flight based on something that resembles an earlier, painful memory, whereas the hippocampus stores our factual memory.
There is a dramatic reshaping of the brain going on during the teenage years. This means that the teenager may have difficulty recognizing himself, not just physically, but also psychologically. Brain scans show that the areas of the brain associated with reward generally develop faster than those that inhibit impulses and provide self-control. In that light, it is not surprising that teenagers are more tempted to try impulsive actions and risky decisions.
When teenagers seem “overdramatic,” they are learning to navigate the complexities of their emotional world. They don’t do it to bother us, but because their inner world IS more dramatic.
The teenagers needs
Needs are the driving forces we all have within us that make us seek a sense of goodness within. The way our internal system lets us know that there is an unmet need is through an unpleasant feeling. For example, we are cold when our body temperature is too low, and we get thirsty when we need water. We also have social needs; we need respect, community and love, and we get angry, sad and lonely when these needs are not met.
Needs apply to all of us.For teenagers, some needs arise that were not present before. It comes through hormonal changes, where the physical puberty is just the visible part. Along with the awakening of their sexuality, their needs for identity, autonomy, and freedom are awakened.
Teenagers can spend hours doing hair, trying on clothes and filing nails. They compare themselves with others and are prone to self-criticism. They are often alienated from themselves.
You know it yourself – what were the things YOU did to belong among those you wanted to belong to? No matter how perfect you act as parents, your teenager still needs to distance themselves from you – it’s part of their search for identity.
Autonomy and respect
Teenagers don’t accept orders as they used to. They want to be respected as people who have a choice. It is part of the development of their nervous system and identity that they protest when others want to rule them, no matter how much consideration you put into your decisions.
Teenagers rebel against strict rules and close supervision, and they enjoy finding their own solutions and being able to move around on their own. They will claim their right to freedom, even if you think you are giving them just the framework that suits them best. If we understand their needs, we can acknowledge the feelings related to them. It relaxes the young person who feels misunderstood, and makes it easier to get through the minefield together. Although teenagers can seem defiant and rebellious, they most often desperately crave their parents’ approval and acceptance.
If we remember that our teenager has feelings and needs, for which they may not have any words themselves, it can be helpful if we guess. If we guess wrong, they will probably let us know, and then together we will become a little more knowledgeable about what is going on.
Coach your teenager.
Coaching is asking questions that make the other person reflect and find their own answers. It is super effective for teenagers who want to find their identity, decide for themselves, and express their freedom. At no time in human life is coaching more relevant than with our teenagers! But smaller children, partners and even our old mother will benefit from coaching as well.And this is something we just have to get used to: that it’s not OUR answers that are right for the other person, but that we want to help them find their OWN answers.
- The other makes sense no matter what! If you think their behavior makes no sense, there is something YOU don’t understand that can be understood. Dress yourself with curiosity.
- Ask openly instead of telling how you think things are connected. For example: What happened? How come? What held you back? How can I help you?
- The principle is: Open questions which come from curiosity and desire to understand and which invite your teenager to answer. Avoid yes/no questions. Instead of: “Didn’t you know it was forbidden?” then ask: “How come you did it?”
- Also avoid the word: “Why”. It is quite common to feel cross-examined and become defensive if someone asks why we so and so, …. ask instead: “How come …?”
- Listen to the answers and check if you have understood it correctly.
Some other tips for a peaceful family culture
- Drop demands – ask them for what you want and respect a no! (the exceptions will come shortly)
- Trust must be built first! If you’ve never met your child this way before, they won’t believe it – and they’ll test you. It is worth the effort.
- Protective use of force when necessary. Sometimes we don’t trust their judgment and we want to stop what they are doing because it is dangerous to them or others. It could be, for example, alcohol before we think they are ready for it, or riding a moped without a helmet, meeting a person who has contacted them on social media, or going to a party in a foreign city. We do this by using protective use of force.
- It is important that we do it without anger. We don’t do it to punish, only protect them. Immediately afterwards, we listen to how it was for them – WITHOUT DEFENDING AND EXPLAINING. We listen and acknowledge that it is insanely hard when all other 14-year-olds are allowed to drink, ride a moped without a helmet, meet suspicious types, and go to a party in a foreign city.
- We listen and nod, and receive all their emotional litter. And maybe say: “Yes, I hear how hard it is for you. Yes, of course you are unhappy/ angry/ afraid that you are missing out on something important”. Empathy, not explanations!
- This way of receiving them, this is the shit. It is difficult, because it requires self-control of us. We give our children a huge gift when we gradually learn to meet them in this way; with respect, understanding, kindness and at the same time, unwavering authority.
- Repair. When it does NOT work this way (because it does not always), then we have an occasion to come back and repair what went wrong. We do that just like in protective use of force by LISTENING to the effect our words or actions had on the young person. When they have COMPLETELY finished telling us, we can ask: Would you like to hear why I said what I did? And only if they say yes, do we explain ourselves. If they say no, we have to go to a friend’s house and empty OUR litter bin.
- Timing! Talk to them when they are available
- Acknowledge their feelings and needs
- Coach them with open questions
- Be clear about your boundaries and needs
- Replace demands with requests, and
- Employ protective use of force when appropriate
It is tough to parent – and the toughest period for many families is when the offspring goes through puberty. Talk to others about your experiences. Laugh. Learn that it is not just you.