This was first published on KSL.COM
SALT LAKE CITY — This article is for parents. It's when they discover their teenager is sneaking out, is sexually active, is taking drugs or participating in any other scary, bad behavior.
How you react to this news or discovery matters. If you react badly, with an emotional, scared, selfish, angry, overblown in panicked reaction, you could push them further away from you and end up with less influence in their lives. If you respond right, you can strengthen your connection, build trust and gain more influence.
1. Don’t freak out
This discovery may feel like the end of the world; it isn’t. You must choose to trust the universe knows what it’s doing. This is the perfect classroom journey experience, showing up for you and your child, and to provide the lessons you both apparently need. Trust that your teen has signed themselves up for this lesson, because it’s the one they need, and you are going to become stronger, wiser and more loving through this too.
2. Don’t shame or berate them
We all make mistakes, have bad judgment, and try things we know are bad for us. We are human and making mistakes is a vital part of our classroom journey. So, you must not ever shame, humiliate, judge or berate your child for being a human being in process. This is the biggest mistake parents make. They approach their child from a position of above — better, more righteous and perfect — and talk down to their teen, who they view as stupid, bad and wrong. Our egos love this behavior, but it ruins relationships.
Get off your high horse and remember you aren’t perfect either, you have character flaws and you have made mistakes. Get down on their level and see both of you as the same, struggling scared students in the classroom of life, who both have a lot more to learn. Tell them you are a student in the classroom with them and apparently you both get to learn something here. Admit you have made tons of mistakes and there is no shame or judgment coming from you. Your only desire is to be here, help them sort it all out and figure out what they want. You are here to listen and no matter what, be on their side. This approach makes it you and your teen together against a problem, not against each other.
3. Don’t lecture, just listen
When you start lecturing, they tune you out. They do this because it’s all about you and not about them at all. When you lecture, you are saying things that make you feel better and safer. You are not saying things that actually help your teen.
So zip it and get ready for a long conversation where you say very little. It is time to ask questions and get to know your child at a deeper level. You will not believe how much you will learn about your child, if you ask questions and listen more than you talk. If your teen won’t talk to you (because you have not listened very well in the past, you may have to apologize for that and promise this time will be different). If they still won’t trust or talk to you, you might have to find another adult they can be honest with.
Tell your teen you just want to understand where they are, how they feel, what they want in life, and figure out how you can support them. Ask them to be honest with you and you can handle the truth without freaking out (and mean it). If you can’t handle the truth and stay out of judgment, fear and anger, then you won’t earn this place in their life. You may need to find another adult, a counselor, coach or leader, who they will talk to, while you work on building trust again.
If they will talk, ask questions, which help you understand what drives their behavior. The main drivers of behavior are what they fear most and what they value most. So, ask questions that explore these. Ask them to tell you what matters most to them from these four things:
Then, ask them if they can see how their behavior might be about meeting that need. Ask if they would be open to finding some healthier solutions or sources to meet that need. Ask them to tell you what might be healthier ways. Ask them about their goals, wants, and dreams in life, and explain your role, as their parent, is to support and help them to create the life they want and feel good about themselves. (Notice this is all done by asking not telling).
4. Ask permission to share
If you feel you must tell a story, give advice or make rules, ask them if they would be open to letting you go here. “Would you be willing to let me share my beliefs and values and how I feel about this with you?” If you have spent enough time listening first, you will have earned the right to go here now.
Asking permission is a powerful way to show your teen you respect and honor them, and the more you do this, the more they will respect you back. If they say no, say I respect that and move onto the part about creating rules together.
5. Don’t make unrealistic rules
Your teen is going to find a way to do whatever they want to do, no matter what your rules are. So, your cracking down and trying to control their life doesn’t really work and forbidding them from ever seeing their boyfriend or their friends again isn’t realistic.
It makes more sense to help them set some new boundaries and rules to help them create the life they want, but you must include the teen in figuring out what these new rules should be. These should be rules that help them protect themselves, from their own tendency to get into trouble. Decide on curfews, routine drug tests, access to tech, the car, etc.
Help them figure out why making better choices is the right thing for them, so they will want to make these good choices on their own when you aren’t there to control them. You want a smarter teen who makes good choices for themselves. This is much safer than control is. Also, remember you can have control or connection, and the later gives you more influence.
Your teen may keep making bad choices though, and if this happens, you may need to seek out some professional help (sooner than later). This is hard for parents though. You don’t want to see them make painful, costly decisions, but it is their journey and you will suffer less when you respect that. Focus on unconditional love, good boundaries and limits, and staying out of judgment and shaming. Keep choosing love over fear and listen to your intuition, as you are entitled to know what's right for your child.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the human behavior expert who solves people problems at home and work. Check out her new app at 12shapes.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com
SALT LAKE CITY — I get many questions submitted these days from concerned parents who are struggling to connect and have influence with their teens. Kids today have access to friends and information on every subject 24/7. Parents are finding it more difficult than ever to maintain real influence to guide their teens.
In order to have real influence you must have real connection and mutual respect. Below are eight ways parents sometimes behave that can erode their relationships, create disconnection and cause them to lose influence:
1. Have emotional and immature reactions, in anger, self-pity or fear
When parents are emotionally immature, reactive, or lose control, teens lose respect. They want you to be the adult, see situations clearly, and respond with wisdom and love. When you aren’t able to do that and respond immaturely they lose respect for you as an adult.
If you struggle with emotional immaturity and often blow your top, go to a self-pity or drama place, or use ridiculous threats, there are resources to help you deal with your emotions. If the problem continues, you may want to seek out some professional help to change that behavior.
The best thing a parent could do for their child is to work on their own self-worth and relationship skills. Learn how to process emotions in a healthy way and get control of your temper.
2. Try to force them and be controlling
Oppressed people always rebel. It’s just human nature. Have you ever tried to drag someone in one direction? What do they automatically do? They pull the other way. No one likes to be forced (even if they want to go the way you are pulling, they will always resist being forced).
It would be wiser to spend time asking questions and helping teens figure out which options create the best results in their lives and encourage them to make good choices on their own, for themselves. This way they make good choices even when you aren’t around.
3. Engage in power struggles
Parents who try to demand obedience and make teens obey soon find out they really have no control. There are very few things you can force another person to do. You can make them sit at a table to study, but you can’t force them to read or understand what they are reading. You can demand a bedtime, but you can’t force them to sleep. These kinds of power struggles erode connection and drive children away from you.
When you engage in force, you are making yourself the enemy. It makes more sense to stay on their team, not fight against them. You both want the same thing in the end, a happy, healthy, productive adult. Approach every issue as the two of you against the problem, never against each other.
4. Tell them the same thing over and over
Lectures are rarely effective and when you say the same thing, in different ways over and again in one sitting, your teen stops listening. This is not the way to gain influence or connection with your child. Teens also get offended when you insult their intelligence and assume they aren’t getting what you’re saying. Trust me, they heard you.
What you are feeling is their resistance to how it’s being communicated. It’s not a conversation you are having, it is a one-way lecture and there is no connection involved. If you want to have a conversation about an issue with your teen it requires you to ask questions, listen and really hear their thoughts and feelings too.
If you need to be a dictator and give a speech, just expect eye rolls and disrespect, because respect has to be a two-way street. It also has to be earned through mature, calm, intelligent and validating communication.
5. Be hypocritical (say one thing yet do the other)
You lose all credibility when you don’t practice what you preach, and I guarantee your kids notice. They are learning much more from watching you than from anything you say. They may be learning how they don’t want to behave in the future or how to not treat their children.
Fortunately, your value as a human being isn’t affected by your performance, so you still have the same value as the rest of us. But it is your job to keep working on yourself and own it if you make mistakes. Never underestimate the power of being vulnerable and admitting when you are wrong — there are few better ways to connect with your kids.
6. Be disrespectful and talk down to them
You earn their respect by treating them with respect. Imagine how you would handle the conversation about their messy room if it was a friend staying with you. How would you speak to the friend about the mess? Try speaking to your own kids with that level of respect and you will get what I mean. When you talk down to teens, they can get offended and pull away from you. Any discipline, counsel or correction can be delivered with respect.
7. Talk more than you listen
Nothing shows a teenager that it’s all about you faster than this. Make sure in every conversation you are asking questions and listening to their views as much or more than you are talking. You will be amazed by what you learn.
Smart parents can ask the right questions and get a teen to figure out what they were going to say, without saying a word. That is real learning that lasts, too.
8. Spoil them or make their life too easy
This creates entitled teens who don’t listen and just demand and expect to have what they want. Make sure they learn young to earn what they have.
Your job is to prepare them for the real world, where phone plans cost money and get turned off if aren’t paid for. Let them fail often and learn these lessons now, in your home, when the lessons are less expensive.
If you have a hard time saying no or pulling back on privileges because they are used to being spoiled, seek out some professional help to show you how to do this in a loving, firm way.
Some people may think I am putting all the blame for a relationship problem on the parents. It does take two to create the mess you might be in, and your teen's bad behavior is obviously half the problem — but you are the adult.
It is your job to be accountable for your half. If you don’t have the skills and tools to handle parenting in a mature, wise, loving way, it is your job to seek them out. When you decided to have children, you accepted the responsibility of the parent role. You must take the role seriously and study, learn and grow in it.
The more you learn and grow, you will be able to model better behavior for your kids, and they will be better prepared to work on their side.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.