Want to Connect with Your Teen? Get Curious!
By Dr. Cam, Family Success Coach
One of my teen clients said to me, “I hate my dad! All he cares about is my grades. He has no interest in getting to know me.”
But she didn’t hate her dad, she hated how he made her feel about herself. Lashing out was her way of protecting how hurt she felt inside.
Another teen told me, “No matter what I do, I get yelled out. I can’t do anything right. I just don’t care anymore.”
But he did care. A lot. Acting apathetic was his way of protecting himself from feeling like a failure.
Everyone else is telling you that if your teen says, “I hate you,” it means you’re doing something right. You’ve strengthened your authority. You’ve stood your ground. But I’m telling you that if your teen says, “I hate you,” it means you’ve made a misstep. You’ve weakened their confidence in you. You’ve lost ground.
If things aren’t going the way you want with your teen, get curious. Ask WHY.
For example, Why is my teen lashing out at me? Why did they feel the need to say that? Why are they so upset?
Every parent I talk to thinks their situation with their teen is unique. But it’s NOT. I hear the same complaints and frustrations over and over and over again.
There is a reason for this. Your teen is working exactly the way they are supposed to. It’s not your job to change them, it’s your job to understand them.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Jay Giedd, the adolescent brain is going through a major growth spurt which consists of an explosion of new connections and synapses. This makes teens highly adaptable and easily malleable—creating a window of opportunity to critical life skills such as emotional regulation, impulse control, self-motivation, problem-solving… the things they need to know to eventually move out of our house rather down to our basement.
This growth spurt also makes teens more sensitive and susceptible to negative input, which can have serious implications well into adulthood.
When we run teen behaviors through an adult translator, the meaning gets jumbled. When we react from an adult perspective, are well-intention messages are often received in a negative light
For example, adults often mistake their teen's distance and defensiveness for dislike and disdain. Parents react by increasing the distance between them. Their teen interprets this as lack of caring and concern for them. They begin to believe they’re unlovable.
Parents often mistake their teen’s lack of direction or disinterest as laziness or poor decision making. They react by pushing and correcting them. Their teen interprets this as criticism and judgment. They begin to believe they’re unfixable.
Oftentimes we believe we’re building our teens up, but we’re actually breaking them down. We believe we’re telling them they are unconditionally loved, but we’re showing them they are not enough.
If you want to strengthen your connection with your teen, here are three specific things you can do right now to get more curious:
Learn about teen behavior. Read about it, listen to podcasts, find a coach. Once you understand them, you’ll be able to see them through the filter of possibility instead of problems.
Look beyond the behavior. Try to understand WHY that behavior exists and address the cause of the behavior instead of the behavior itself. Recognize that so much of acting out comes from a desperate need for belonging and acceptance.
Talk about your teen’s behavior. Instead of making assumptions, say to your teen, “help me to understand what’s going on.” Then LISTEN.
Getting curious enables us to fully understand and accept our teens, which is what our teens want most from us.
Cameron (Dr. Cam) Caswell, PhD, the “teen translator,” is an adolescent psychologist, family success coach, host of the Parenting Teens with Dr. Cam podcast and Parenting Teens Power Hour, and is the author of Power Phrases for Parents: Teen Edition. For over a decade, she has been helping parents build strong, positive relationships with their teens through improved communication, connection, and understanding using her PRIME Parenting Method. Dr. Cam is the mom of a teen too, so she not only talks the talk, she walks the walk!
Visit Dr. Cam’s website: www.askdrcam.com