How is a teenager like a toddler you ask?
If you have children, think back to that incredible moment when your toddler was first up and running, literally running, and so are you!
- Remember their unbound curiosity?
- Remember the intensity of their exploration, the sheer joy and terror of their new found power?
- Remember the exuberance and the meltdowns? The highs and the lows?
- Remember the energizer bunny and the completely spent tortoise?
- Remember the tantrums and the blossoming new sense of self?
Sound like any teenagers you know?
Perhaps you remember a certain conflict resolution skill you might have adapted at the time of toddlerhood. The incredibly effective tool of giving choice within a prescribed decision. For example, “would you like to put on blue or yellow socks today?” Socks will be put on and within that the child has a choice. As a parent you have gracefully met the needs of both parent and child. You have fostered their sense of self-mastery and capability and at the same time met your need for safety, nurturing and warmth.
How is parenting a teenager like parenting a toddler?
Fast forward 10 years and now your toddler is standing eye to eye with you, literally and figuratively. The simple elegance of the defined choice given to the toddler doesn’t quite translate.
Want to make your life a whole lot easier? Try this. During the teen years keep an eye on the underlying interests. The underlying interests of the toddler and the teen do remain the same: self mastery and developing new capabilities. And to some degree your need as a parent are the same: safety, nurturing and warmth (think skimpy skirts and no jacket as they head off to high school, what to do)!
For teens, the focus is on cultivating their ability to problem-solve and develop conflict resolution skills. So, now instead of the “blue or yellow socks” question, it might go something more like this: “You want to go to the party and I am concerned that there may be drinking there.” Can you think of a way that both your desire and my concern can both be considered?
PAUSE. WAIT. TRUST.
Teenagers are actually INCREDIBLE problem solvers, they are highly motivated to get what they want, so they actually will work with you to great lengths to find a workable solution. This is the birth of collaborative decision making, a skill that will serve them for a lifetime.
This is not negotiation. This is not compromise. This is something deeper. This is “we both have needs and together we are going to come up with a solution that we both can genuinely agree upon.”
What makes this effective is if you make sure you don’t sell yourself short and accommodate their request (to be loved by your teen) or act like you are open-minded when you are not (to be loved by your teen).
Teens smell hidden agendas and inauthenticity a mile away!
Here is where “transparenting” comes in. One of the most powerful mediums you have for maintaining connection with your teen is AUTHENTIC RELATING. When you consistently “show your hand” you build trust with your teen and secure the ongoing ability to shape and guide them at a time where the risks are high.
This does not mean you have to tell them things you are uncomfortable sharing, but it does mean that when you are trying to make hard decisions you keep voicing honestly all your concerns, your doubts; you keep sharing the nuances of your own decision making process.
This gives them an inside view of collaborative decision making. And believe me, they are experiencing the same thing inside themselves-conflicting feelings, desires, truths, things they are hiding etc. The more “trans-parent” you are, the more comfortable they will be to reveal their inner world to you.
This may seem quite contrary to the “hold the line” or “talk to your father” approach of years gone by. But, it is my firm belief that the complexity of the decision making that our teens will face in these modern times asks for a different approach. One that asks for nothing less than the deepest form of problem solving. Problem solving that wells up from the roots of our deepest human needs and interests which we share in common.
So go ahead, be trans-parent with your teen and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised!
We are born with an energy of aliveness and a belief that life is good. Watch a toddler’s zest for walking. No matter how many times she falls, she has a dream of being a walker!
-Mary Manin Morrissey