More Tips for Having Tough Talks with Your Teen
I recently posted an article outlining how to have a difficult conversation with your teenager.
We looked at the reasons why teens struggle, and how we, as parents or influencers, need to help them navigate through those struggles.
Often, the best way to help our teen is by addressing their problems through conversation. They need us to talk with them.
I want to pick up on that a bit more this week.
Let me start with the topic of perspective.
There is an old cliché about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I am sure you have heard it referenced in a movie or song lyric.
Despite it being an overused metaphor—the truth remains.
We empathize with someone in a conversation when we attempt to see things from their perspective.
Your teenager has a specific perspective or lens they are looking through, simply because of their age. You, I might add, do as well.
A simple step in trying to relate to your teen is to think back to when you were their age.
Take the time and energy to process through questions like:
- How did being a teenager go for you?
- What were the difficult points of those years, and how did you handle them?
- How well did your parents handle your teen years?
- What would you replicate and what would you change?
This last question may be a bit painful for you. It was for me.
If I were to be completely honest, I would say that my parents didn’t handle conflict in my teen years well.
They avoided difficult conversations.
As a teenager, there were times I made really poor choices.
Sure, my parents reacted to those choices. They became upset and grounded me—but we never really “talked” about what happened. And because we didn’t talk, they missed the opportunity to give me the tools I needed for making better decisions going forward.
The model of parenting I had received coming into raising teenagers was not that helpful. I got better at it with each kid, but it took time.
Being in touch with what your teen years were like, and the models your parents left you with, can help you better navigate through the difficult conversations you need to have with your own kids.
It can take awhile to process through it all, but it is worth it. Gear up for the challenge.
It is also important to make room for your teen’s perspective.
Be careful of relying too much on the issue of truth or the strength of your own convictions.
With teenagers, if the truth is not mixed with graciousness, it is less likely to be received.
If you are unable to make room for your teen’s thoughts, while still having strong ones of your own—you are at best derailing the conversation. At worst, you are harming your relationship with them.
Out of all six of my kids, my wife and I retained a relationship with them through difficult times and situations. Graciousness was a key to that.
I also had to learn how to not project my own history and experiences on to my kids.
What life was like for you in high school is not what life is like for your teen. Social media has changed the playing rules. How kids relate to one another has dramatically shifted and the level of pressure teens encounter is so much higher.
Their lives are different. What they are facing cannot be compared to what we faced. That’s why we need to make room for their thoughts.
Assuming that we fully understand their struggles, or know the right thing to do, will hinder our ability to hear them out and help.
It is important to dial down the fear.
As parents, we love our kids. Sometimes, the pressure of messing up the conversation—or worrying that our teens are too fragile—can set the wrong frame on the talk.
Teens can get to the other side of poor choices. It may affect their lives, but it isn’t the end of their life.
If you approach a conversation as though it were the end of the world, and there is no going back—you are putting too much pressure on your self and your teen.
The human heart and the human spirit are incredibly resilient.
Your teen will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. You will have conversations that don’t go well. Don’t let one bad conversation or decision prevent you from continuing the dialogue.
Learn to say, I am sorry.
Admit it when you don’t handle a conversation well.
It may be too late to take back what you’ve said, but it is never too late for continuing the conversation and taking a different approach. You want your children to tell you what is going on.
Refusing to admit when you are wrong can shut the door to future conversation. Don’t let that happen.
Most importantly, don’t let the conversation turn destructive.
If you find yourself losing control of your emotions, or you feel the anger rising, stop the conversation.
The same applies to your teen. If they are losing their grasp on their emotion and the dialogue is turning destructive, shut the conversation down.
Destructive conversations not only hinder the conversation from going forward, they destroy the ability to have healthy ones in the future.
Keeping an unhealthy conversation going for the sake of proving a point is not helpful or worth it.
Take a break from the conversation and return to the dialogue when you and your teen have had time to regroup.
Your long-term vision is to help your kids be independent and happy.
Keep in mind that in difficult conversations, you are not wanting to tell them what to think—you are wanting to help them to learn “how” to think.
Help your kids process through the choices they make and the problems they face so that they can learn how to problem solve on their own.
At the end of the day, difficult conversations are going to be difficult.
Talking to your teenagers about topics like alcohol, drug use, social media, bullying, and sexuality are not easy things.
Even when the conversations go well, they won’t feel good. Don’t let the tension keep you from leaning into the conversation. Avoiding problems don’t make them go away.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You are not alone in the journey. Look to people who have had conversations about these topics with their own teens. Ask for advice from friends and professionals.
Your teens are worth the investment.
Want to become more effective in the difficult conversations in your life? Sometimes our conversations don’t play out that well, run off the rails, and people leave feeling demoralized or belittled. We know what it’s like to walk away from a conversation that we are still carrying hours, days, or even years later. That is why we’ve created this FREE resource entitled 15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations Into Win-Win Dialogue. It will help you start to navigate even the most challenging discussions. Click here to download the guide now!