Things getting tricky with your teens?

Teenagers are at a complicated stage in their mental and emotional development and you may be finding that the enforced proximity of the current situation is making things a bit tense (or simply more frazzled than normal). Below is some advice from a ex-secondary teacher with a lot of experience of angsty teens and training in conflict resolution.

Try to talk to your teens about your own worries and how you are coping. You can be a role model for how to cope emotionally. Remember that anger is known as a ‘masking emotion’ - it’s usually covering over hurt, need and fear.

It can be good to set up quite a formal meeting to get some of the underlying emotions expressed. To do this say really explicitly ‘Things seem difficult between us at the moment. We need a bit of a re-set. Could we sit down and have an honest conversation about how we’re feeling, what we think could be better and what we could each contribute to make things better?’ Set some formal ground rules:

  1. Stick to ‘I feel...’ statements rather than blaming others.

  2. Each person gets 3 minutes to talk while the others listen.

  3. During the 3 mins you will ask the speaker to pause occasionally to make sure you have understood - this means that the you simply repeat back what you have heard (without responding or commenting).

  4. If things start to get heated, everyone will take a 10 min time out to calm down.

Let them go first. Don’t comment or respond - just repeat back and let them clarify or correct you if they think you haven’t understood. Let them know that you are going to think about what they have said but that you will need a bit of time to reflect on it. This models for everyone that is best not to respond in the heat of the moment.

When it’s your turn, express your own hurt, need, fear rather than anger. Don’t be afraid to show that you are upset (but try to keep it under control - parents being out of control is scary. Take a time out if you need it). Talk about some of your own coping strategies. Express your love and trust.

You may need to do this kind of thing a couple of times (or even regularly) but it should help to shift the dynamic. It's a good idea to ask them for a plan. I would say something like ‘I understand that you have ideas about how to organise your time. Could we make a plan together to see if we can make that work? I love you so much and you know I want the best for you and that includes wanting you to be safe, healthy and to keep up with your education. I can’t let any of that slide - it’s too important. I’m going to give you some time to think about it and make a plan and then we’ll discuss it together. Try to think about each of those areas - safety, health and education.’  I’d then make a time for the discussion to give them a chance to think things through. Speak to each of them separately and make a written plan which, when agreed, they sign. Try to think through with them ‘which bits are going to be harder? How can I support you? What can we put in place to help with that?’ Agree a trial period after which you will review the plan and change it if necessary. Show them that you trust them.

In scary times is important for them to feel that they have some control. But equally you can be strong about still being the parent. I would recommend a book called 'How to Talk so Teens will Listen & Listen so Teens will Talk'

by Adele Faber. Good luck!