By Ashley Marlow, Lower and Middle School counselor and Michelle Hirschy, Upper School counselor
In the arch of parenting, we go from doing things for our children to with our children, and finally, to standing back and watching them be independent. When parenting a teenager, it can be difficult to determine when it’s appropriate to step in and when it’s necessary to let them figure it out on their own. The school counselors hosted a three-part workshop, where, under the guidance of guest presenter Erica Rood, M.A., Ed., parents explored this arch and learned tools for navigating this exciting, important and challenging stage of life.
The Loving the Teen Years sessions were designed for parents to learn how to support their child in developing healthy self-esteem, respectful communication and a sense of responsibility. Ms. Rood is the founder of Inspire Balance: Family, Parent, and Teen Coaching. She is a teacher and certified Life Coach with over 15 years of teaching and coaching experience.
Many parents express feeling disconnected from their child and unsure how to foster a close relationship as their teen takes steps towards independence. Below are some of the tips, strategies and themes explored in the workshop:
Start using the words “respect” and “honor” in your acknowledgments of your teen’s qualities, rather than their accomplishments. Ask your teen how they would like to be shown respect and listen with an open mind and heart. You might be amazed at their insight! Consider who they are, not what they do. Make it clear that you will always love them, even when you don’t love their behavior.
Remind yourself daily: I will listen to understand. Instead of listening from your point of view (to get information/hold them accountable for their actions), try to imagine what life is like for your child and listen from their point of view. Teens shut down when they feel like they are being pestered for information or worry that their parent will automatically go into “fix-it” mode. If listening to understand becomes a habit in all your communication, you will find that your teen will be more likely to open up and go to you during difficult moments.
Practice taking two deep breaths before responding to your teen. A moment of pause models calmness and non-reactivity, which are very valuable life skills. When emotions are high, it’s helpful to take a step back and say, “Let’s take some time to think about this. We can talk more when both of us have had a chance to cool off and are thinking more clearly.” How you respond helps to set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
Consider your family values to determine the bottom line of what is negotiable vs. non-negotiable. Ask yourself, “What do I really want to happen in this situation? And what do I really want my teenager to understand and learn?” When fostering responsibility, use phrases such as, “I would like to request… What is stopping you from finishing… What can I do to help… What support do you need…?” If they have a difficult time identifying these things, offer suggestions or options. If consequences need to be enforced, make sure that there is consistent follow-through and that they are appropriate for the situation and teenager. Discussing potential outcomes with teens ahead of time will help them to make wise choices.
Parenting a teenager is not for the faint of heart. They can test boundaries, be challenging to understand, and at times, are more concerned with their online life than they are with their real one. However, close family relationships make a huge difference in helping teens navigate through the ups and downs of adolescence. It takes a village to raise a child, and our hope is that by hosting these forums, we will continue to establish a family-school-community partnership.