Just Listen

For our chapter on communication between parents and teens, Cynthia and I decided to ask students for their input.  I spent an insightful 90 minutes with my 7th graders, gleaning enough material for several chapters.  Here are a few of the highlights, as the kids see it:

  • Parents expect kids to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to them, but they don’t always do the same for their kids.
  • What parents consider “talking back” is considered “just having a conversation” or “just asking a question” by their kids.
  • Kids are pleasantly surprised when parents listen to and support their ideas.
  • Siblings are seen as a big distraction when there’s something important to discuss.
  • Parents tend to jump to conclusions before the story has ended.

The bottom line?  Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13, middle schoolers start to need the same things adults do:  to be listened to, to be understood, and to be taken seriously.  If you want to hear what’s going on inside your kids’ hearts and heads, show them you’re interested by treating them the same way you would a friend or a co-worker.

And please – let them finish.



3 Types of Difficult Teens (and How to Live with Them)

When I heard about a book called How People Tick:  A Guide to Over 50 Types of Difficult People and How to Handle Them, I realized that I could probably think of 50 types of difficult teens and give advice on handling them.  However, in the interest of time, I’ll only mention 3 here (and address more in later blogs).

The Drama Queens/Kings
What They Do
While all teens are emotional, some go overboard with their overreactions.  They will turn small issues into major crises with excessive tears or tantrums.  It’s not so much that all the world’s a stage; it’s more like all the world is expected to be an audience.
How to Handle Them
I’ve found three methods to be useful.  The easiest is just to play dumb and pretend it’s not happening.  She yells, “Oh NO!  I can’t believe this!  My life is over!!”  You know she’s not talking about a terminal illness, so don’t even glance her way unless you’re directly addressed.  Then you can try the second method – underreacting.  Just shrug and say a noncommittal “Huh.”  If she doesn’t get the response she wants, she’ll go elsewhere for a more appreciative audience.  If she continues to be annoyingly theatrical, pull out the third method and call it what it is:  “Your reaction seems a little too dramatic for this situation.  I’m happy to listen when you can be calmer about it.”

The Surrogate Parents
What They Do
Often (but not always) oldest children, they think they’re part of the parenting team.  This entitles them to boss and/or correct their younger siblings, causing strife and unhappiness in the family.  Sometimes, these pseudo-parents think it’s also their right to boss around the real parents.
How To Handle Them
Keep reminding him that there are already parents in your house (or at least one parent), and he is not one of them.  Thank him for his helpfulness, but assure him that you are fully in charge of the situation.  Sometimes a hand held up, palm out, accompanied by the words, “I’ve got this!”  are all you need.

The Eeyores
What They Do
Perpetually out of sorts, they seem to be happy only when they’re complaining.  No matter how good something might seem to others, they’re likely to just shrug and say, “Whatever,” or “It’s okay, I guess.”  Or they’ll point out flaws that others didn’t see – and might not care about.
How To Handle Them
First of all, don’t fall into the trap of trying to cheer them up.  While they may enjoy the attention they’re getting as you try to make them happy, it’s not what they want, and they’ll only resist your efforts.  As with the dramatic teens, it’s best to play dumb and pretend you don’t notice their melancholy (unless, of course, you suspect something really is wrong).  When your question about where to go for dinner is met with a sigh and “I don’t care; whatever,” answer brightly with your own choice and assume your idea is met with approval.  Often they will forget their sadness and join in the fun with the rest of the gang.

One last tip:  most teens will become Difficult Teens of one kind or another.  In fact, some of them will be all three of these in the same day – or the same hour.  Learn to recognize them, acknowledge them, and deal with them appropriately.  Because the reality is – they’ll be back another day!

No Need to Up the Stakes

I could see the frustration in the 8th grade mom’s face:  “I tried taking away her phone like you said, but she didn’t care.  She just shrugged, said, ‘Okay, fine,’ and handed it over.  I guess next time I’ll have to think of something worse!”

I assured her she wouldn’t have to do that if she just kept taking the phone away whenever the undesired behavior (or attitude, in this case) occurred.  Parents forget that the purpose of a consequence is to curb behavior; they aren’t trying to make the teen mad.  Of course this will happen (often), but it shouldn’t be the goal.

It’s like a driver who receives 3 or 4 speeding tickets in the same neighborhood, or on the same stretch of freeway.  Eventually he’ll get tired of paying the fines and slow down as he approaches that area.  The consequence doesn’t have to change; it just has to happen consistently.

Besides, some teens will use their non-anger as a power ploy, refusing to give their parents the satisfaction of making them miserable – at least on the surface.  Rest assured, however, that if the consequence is appropriate, the teen will be upset enough to want to avoid it happening again.

In the above situation, I heard about it at school every day. “I’d text you, but I don’t have a phone!”  “Only 10 more days until I get my phone back!”   “I’d better not, or my mom won’t ever give me back my phone!”

I’d say that consequence was painful enough!


Welcome to Your New Job

It’s time to quit your job.  No, not the one where you earn a paycheck – keep that one.  I mean the parenting job you’ve had for about 10 years or so.  It’s not that you’re not needed anymore – it’s just that your job description has changed.

During your first decade of parenting, your role was more like that of a personal servant.  You were supposed to make sure your children were happy and all their needs were met.  They in turn showed their appreciation with hugs and kisses and stories about everything that was going on in their heads and hearts.

But if your child has reached the age of 10 or beyond, your responsibilities have changed, and you weren’t even notified.  You are no longer expected to solve his problems and cheer him up.  In fact, if you try to do either at the wrong time, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an angry outburst or a cold shoulder.

Your new role is more like that of a consultant.  Be available, listen to the issue, show you understand, but offer a solution only if asked to do so.  Your son complains that his homework is too hard?  Tell him you remember how it got harder as you got older.  Your daughter complains that her friend is being mean?  Tell her you know that must make her unhappy.  If your help isn’t requested, then don’t give it.

Think of it as a promotion.  And your raise?  It will come in the form of a teen-ager who actually wants you around.