Childhood to Adulthood is a Huge Challenge

There’s no doubt that for many of us, the change from childhood to adulthood was confusing and difficult. It’s challenging from the kids’ point of view, and sometimes even more challenging from the parents’ point of view! A client I saw this morning is giving his 12 year old daughter the precious gift of listening to her…just listening. He doesn’t give her advice unless she asks for it or has given him permission. Consequently she “unloads” all her frustrations from her day at school without being shut down by advice or disinterest. He’s giving her what every teen needs.

Is it just a fluke that one child shares their world while another child is closed off? There are certainly differences in personalities that make one child a chatter-box and another more introspective. With a silent kid you really have to be hyper-aware of any opportunity to use the skill of Listening for the purpose of Understanding. Some kids are more reactive to advice or criticism than others. But everyone, including the smallest child to the most recalcitrant teen, needs to be heard and understood. Even as adults, isn’t that what we long for?

Listening to Understand Doesn’t Mean Agreeing

Listening and repeating back what you’ve heard (without attitude, but with genuine caring) meets a need so deep as to make it the number one need after food, clothing and shelter. We all need to be heard and understood, even though that may not lead to agreement! Hearing your kid’s complaint about you or a rule…listening with caring…doesn’t mean you have to do what she wants you to do. In fact, listening with genuine caring makes it easier for her to accept your “Sorry, but it’s still a NO.”

Don’t Just Wait for the Teen Years to End!

Mark Gregston posted a great article entitled The Dangers of “Coasting” When Parenting Teens. He emphasizes two things. One is the importance of learning to listen so that your teen feels comfortable sharing with you. That means no adice and no criticism. One mother of three teens discovered gold by quietly listening and repeating back her understanding of what was said. That interview is Episode #38 of my TV show It’s a challenge for some of us to respond with empathy rather than advice or criticism. The teens years are the season to learn from experience what makes them feel good about themselves and what hurts.

Transition for Parents as Well as for Teens

The parent you were for a toddler or fourth grader is not the parent your teen needs. It’s a time to gradually let go of your control…to allow a bit more freedom. Your teen needs to stretch a bit toward adulthood. Of course that raises the question of how much freedom is this particular child ready to assume? Has he shown responsible behavior in one area that signals he’s ready to be responsible in another area? Has she been truthful in one situation showing she’s assuming responsibility for her actions? It’s a balancing act between control and freedom. Too much freedom too early and a kid may make dangerous, life altering choices.

Every Teen Need Appropriate Boundaries

Mark also emphasizes the need for boundaries. To give a teen total freedom just because he’s insisting he’s ready for it, is a recipe for disaster. The responsibilities you entrust to a thirteen year old are not as big as the responsibilities you hand a sixteen year old. A teen needs to know that his or her handling of one freedom is a prerequisite for being given another. And when mistakes are made, when your kid drops the ball, that is the most powerful time to just Listen to Understand. See if your emerging adult can identify what went wrong and what might he choose if the same circumstance happens in the future. Allow the kid to derive his or her own life lessons from their experience.

You might be asking, “Did you do this?”

My answer is “Sometimes I did it very well. Sometimes I blew it!” There are no perfect parents just like their are no perfect teenagers! While you are learning to be more accepting of your teen’s process, be accepting of your own. Learning to be the parent of a teen is a new skill for you. You’ll make some mistakes and do some things amazingly well! One thing I did well was apologize when I blew it. That helped my teens forgive and give me another chance. The healing of the hurts experienced during the teen years went on for several years into my boys’ adulthood. But eventually I was blessed with a deeply loving connection with both of my boys as well as my three step-children.

Parenting a Teen is Preparation for Parenting an Adult

When your child is an adult, if you’re smart, you let go. You allow them the freedom to make their own choices and suffer the consequences or rewards. The place where you continue being strongly in control, is of yourself and your life circumstances. You do not continue to support an adult child. You do not provide food, clothing, shelter and auto insurance when an adult child is capable of providing those things for himself. The only exception is “You get my support through four years of college. After that you’re on your own.” Or, something like that. Providing excessive support into adulthood is keeping your adult child from earning the self-respect that only comes with assuming appropriate, adult responsibilities for herself. Your thinking may be stimulated by watching Episode #39 about parenting an adult.

There is no tougher job than being a parent! You have my love and support!