Me and roller coasters don’t get along. I’m closing my eyes and white-knuckling all the way. Once, when our daughter was 14, we had all gone to a theme park and I wanted us to get a charcoal caricature of our family. Rachel got an attitude and refused. We negotiated that I would ride the Rebel Yell roller coaster with her if she would sit for the family picture. “Twice!” she grumbled. Overcoming my terror because the outcome was worth it to me, I agreed.
Is your son or daughter entering the teen years? Hang on. You’re in for an emotional roller coaster ride.
Angst and attitude are part and parcel of teen life. While it seems personal, take heart. It’s not only you, but most everybody who catches teenage heat. For a response, you have several options. “Hold on, buster. This is my house and you will can the attitude!” While this response is in every parent’s mind, keep it there. Don’t let it come out of your mouth. With such a response, you are just trying to match your teen’s power play with your own. You might get compliance, but it would be out of fear and at the expense of relationship.
“What? Is that attitude I hear? Where is that coming from?” is heartfelt and a step in the right direction, but at the risk of your teen feeling shamed. Don’t be surprised if the response is a verbal shut-down or a flippant, “Whatever.”
“Wow! This isn’t like you, son. What else is going on?” is more on track. You are calling attention to his attitude but also recognizing his angst. He may still not want to talk, because of his mistrust and unspoken recognition that he crossed a line. “Why are you trying to be nice to me?” sometimes is the response. Hang in there. He’s slowly cracking the emotional door to see if he wants to let you in.
When teens, and children as well, are given an essay question like “What else is going on here?” they may not have the words or want to answer it. If you get a blank stare or “Leave me alone.” To the essay question, make it a multiple choice question. You know their lives well enough to come up with 3 or 4 options as to what might be fueling his angst. When you get some acknowledgement, shift to active listening. Trying to understand his feelings is at the heart of helping him get through his angst. The good news is that from the angst and attitude of teen life comes the development of an individual identity, your goal for your teen as he prepares for adulthood.
“I can’t wait until I’m 18. I’m gone and never looking back!” Ouch, that hurts. After all we’ve done for our kids. In the heat of the moment, teens will say anything. The fact is, many teens actually live with their parents well into their 20’s, even 30’s. Developmentally, adolescence comes to an end and our children are faced with adulthood with all its freedoms and responsibilities.
There are stages to our parenting. When little Johnny is toddling, we use hands-on parenting, literally. When he goes to school, we change to directive parenting. As he becomes a teenager, advice-based parenting works best, as he is working on establishing a personal identity. As he becomes an adult, switch to consultative parenting.
In the business world, consultants have a specific role. First, they are experts in their field. They know their stuff. Second, they are asked by the company boss to come in to the company and check it out. Third, they thoroughly gather data, explore, ask questions, check things out. Fourth, they compile a report and give it to the boss, complete with recommendations, and then they leave.
As parents of late teens/young adults, you have the expertise to give wise counsel, BUT, you have to be asked for it. As your young adult child is floundering, making bad choices, getting into difficulties, use your active listening skills to help him understand his feelings and to chart his own course. As you see his emotional fever coming down, and you think he might actually be ready/able to hear you, then you ask permission. “I’m really sorry you are going through this, son. I have some thoughts. Do you want to hear them?
With his giving you permission, the stage is set for your wise counsel. However, in using consultative parenting, you cannot insist that he follow your will. He can accept or reject your counsel. Parenting our adult children involves giving them our wisdom and giving them their freedom to follow it or not. Parenting? It’s never too late.