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
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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.