In our family counseling practice and at our parent education events, we hear over and over again, “What do I say next?” and “When s/he doesn’t agree with me, then what do I say back?” so we decided to show you what to say and how well it can work!
This is a video demonstration of a 7 1/2 minute interaction between a teenage girl, “Sara” and her mother, whom Sara obviously resents and is fed up with. (Does this sound familiar?)
In this demonstration there are several things we want you to notice:
1) The mother needs to assert her own needs repeatedly, 4 different times, in the conversation to even be heard through her daughter’s continuous resentment. But she does get through eventually. Repetition is your friend, when used with respect.
2) We were fortunate to have a really great teen actress helping us with this video who did a fabulous job of representing a very classic situation where a frustrated teenager labels her mother, with great frustration, as being overbearing, simply because her mother still thinks it is her job to make sure that her daughter is healthy and thriving.
However the young girl has some very viable needs and requests for independence and autonomy underneath that resentment – the teen’s desires deserve some respect.
3) We have role-played the mother as an aspiring “great” parent who is doing her best to use our model of mutual respect, mutual benefit and mutual trust. The Mom even says she’s been learning some new things about parenting and her daughter scoffs at her and sneers, but the mother is undaunted and continues on. If a parent respects herself — with good reason — that will have a positive influence eventually.
4) The thing that we want you to notice the most is when a parent keeps using mutual respect and keeps going for getting that win-win mutual benefit the result will be the teen changing from sullen, closed off and rejecting to happy and appreciative, willing and open. That’s what we want you to see and hear in this video. This stuff WORKS!
Here is this list of skills being demonstrated in this video:
Taking responsibility for one’s mistakes or errors in judgement
Making requests and counteroffers and promises
Reflective listening for underlying values and emotions
Repetition (on both teen and mother’s parts)
Acknowledgement and affirmation
Appreciation and Gratitude
And of course, Mutual Respect, Mutual Benefit (win-win) and Mutual Trust as a goal.
It is not unusual for things to work so beautifully. At first it didn’t seem like it was going to go well. This is the sinking sensation that many parents of teens feel when they try to work things out with an upset teen…and at this point the parent is probably really upset, too.
At first everybody’s emotions are running very high and the teen may use the classic power card, like this one did, of being unresponsive, but we want to show you how IF you are persistent and respectful and you keep putting forth this win-win premise, it always starts to turn. (Unless you have a really serious deep set of unresolved wounds that have been going on for years; that will take some outside help.)
A normal situation like this will just turn around because everyone wants to feel good, even resentful teenagers! The teenager in this scene got some respect and the freedom to run her life the way she wanted so it was not a problem for her to give her mother what she wanted to, which was some reassurance and communication. They both found the middleground of a workable agreement and that’s what you can count on in human beings — they really like to feel good.
Here is a summary of the 5 simple steps to making this kind of a negotiation work:
1) Have some compassion for what it is like for your teen who is growing up in leaps and bounds. Try to remember what it was like to be a teenager and that desperate need to be your own person, out from under your parents’ wings.
2) Show some respect right off the bat in your conversation , no matter what they say to you and the ugly way in which they may be saying it. Maybe even show your respect several times in the very beginning to disarm some of their resistance towards you.
3) Make sure your demonstration of respect is being felt/experienced by them in their body , i.e. that it isn’t just some words you are saying. You will be able to see it or feel it or hear it when the respect lands over there. This mother had to bite her tongue a few times just to make sure that her daughter felt heard and respected. You can tell when they feel it because you’ll see a tiny little smile or they won’t be bristling quite so much or there might be a calmer tone of voice.
4) Give peace a chance. Find a centering mantra for yourself or silently repeat an affirmation so that you can keep your self on track:
“This too shall pass; this storm will blow itself out.”
“I can give her some slack until we talk again.”
“If I’m patient he always comes around.”
“This attitude I’m getting right now won’t last.”
“We love and respect each other deep down; that’s all that matters”
5) Declare that you are going for a change in the way things have been – that you are changing and will continue to change, with their welcome input and suggestions.
Especially with a teenager who is rapidly becoming an adult, you have to be willing to change. As a parent of a teen you need to let go of being a hands-on manager and more of a coach shouting encouragement from the sidelines of their game.
Remember: It’s never too late to repair any damage from having treated them too much like a child and not enough like the young adult they are. Teens are aching to have workable agreements with their parents that allow the teen to be her or his authentic self.
Sometimes this means the parent needs to do a 180 but we want to assure you that there is nothing that teenagers respect more than parents who have transformed themselves, almost overnight, into mutually respectful partners in the continued launching of them into adulthood.
Note: This transformation may be need a little professional support or it may be an easy thing for you to do. You might need a session with a counselor to work out your feelings first before you sit down with your teen.
Scheduling a session with us is always an option; we are happy to serve you in figuring out how to deal with your teen in a way that feels good to everyone. Book a session with us by clicking HERE and it will direct you to our counseling page.
Call to action for parents:
You can repair any damage to the parent-teen relationship that’s been sustained. Really; that can be transformed and overcome. You can lift up and out of any bad relationship with a teen. It might take everything you’ve got, but you will gain everything you want, too. It’s worth it, so try it!
By Dr. Lonnie Green, M.Ed., PhD