“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man (adult), I gave up my childish ways.”
(1 Corinthians 13:11)
My teenager is a mystery that baffles every sense of reason and logic that I try to apply to being her guide and mentor. No matter how many times I think I’ve gotten past a gap in our communication, I slam into yet another seemingly impenetrable wall, and feel like I have to start all over again. I love my daughter very much and I know she has a deep love and respect for me, so it is very stressful I think for both of us when anything disturbs the usually calm waters of our daily interactions. The latest emotional meltdown and typical teenage shutdown that occurred created in me a deep desire to try a different approach to reaching out to her that would hopefully bring a much needed change in our ability to interact more effectively…What did I try?
I simply waited for her to be very calm and non-emotionally involved in any issue between us, and I had a heart to heart talk about what is going on through her eyes. The insight shared was very enlightening and matched alot of the information I had been reading on the internet about what our teenagers have to deal with. Most importantly, I realized that I was making the mistake of trying to look at her too closely with the eyes of an adult expecting her to be able to respond and interact with me as a mature adult. Big mistake….huge in fact! In reality, our teens are not mature adults, but they are also not children….they are caught somewhere in the twilight zone of being between 2 worlds and trying to transition through a very confusing time in their lives. We may never have a full understanding of what they are going through, but we have the opportunity as Christian parents to apply enormous amounts of grace in to the midst of their rapidly changing worlds.
Here are some of the things that my daughter and I gleaned from our conversation and some applications for future interactions.
1. Teenagers may realize that they are overreacting and blowing things out of proportion, but at the same time, feel overwhelmed in their efforts to calm their emotions. Thus the emotional meltdown, or the shut down or both.
Application: Both recognize this is happening. Teenager should ask for some time to get their emotions together and then resume discussions. Parent should recognize that the teen is not capable at that moment of being rational and allow the teen some reasonable time to calm down, or just be alone to think through their inner reactions, and organize their thoughts.
2. Teenagers can be overly sensitive to direct confrontations, especially if they perceive anger in the tone of the adult’s voice or mannerisms. Teenagers can work on trying to remember that the adult is wanting an issue dealt with, and may not realize they are being overbearing in their directness. The adult can work on remembering that a teenager may be more sensitive and defensive with a very direct, confrontational approach and make special effort to be less direct.
Application: Instead of the adult saying bluntly or maybe even with a stern tone, “Why haven’t you_______, (can come across as a very confrontational, accusatory attack)”. The adult can say, I noticed you are doing_____________, and I had expected that you would have done____________. Is there is a reason why this hasn’t been done yet. Is there a misunderstanding in what I expected of you? This approach, is indirect yet still addresses an issue is present. It gives the teen opportunity to explain and not feel so attacked. Many times, I think I have clearly communicated my expectations, and we have a mutual understanding, but when I hear my teen out, I realize she had a very different perspective or an incomplete understanding. I may have assumed she was intentionally ignoring her duties. She may have been on a different page all together.
3. Teenagers want to be independent and yet they don’t. A teen may toggle between presenting as confident, capable, and wanting to be independent, and then expressing apprehensions, and insecurities. They have unique and strong peer pressures to deal with, a constant fluctuation of hormonal changes to deal with, and they are transitioning between being dependent children and being prepared to face the “big wide world out there” as responsible adults. They want to be considered adults but they do not feel fully competent yet to have that safety net of depending on mom and dad fully removed.
Application: Teens need to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, even if it is done in baby steps to develop more competence and confidence. Parents need to balance their push out of the nest with encouragement and support. Make clear expectations. Make clear consequences for infractions. Give more trust and opportunity for independence yet maintain accountability and expectations of mutual respect.
To other parents out there equally perplexed by the bizarre and unpredictable behaviors of teens, I hope to offer some encouragement: I have spoken with many friends who have already survived these challenging years of parenting, and they assure me that if the child is being raised by loving Christian parents, they will mature beyond these transitional moods and behaviors. They can indeed become responsible and capable, and the preserved communication between parent and young adult can develop into a new and very rewarding relationship. In the mean time, love them bunches and bunches and try to be understanding of how difficult this transition period can be. Don’t give up on them….God doesn’t.
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