If you are the parent of a teenager, you are no doubt familiar with these relics of teenage communication, and parent frustration. Teenagers are notorious for their “minimalist” style of communication with parents, as well as the highs and lows on the teenage “hormonal coaster” that leads to the inevitable verbal spar.
As parents, we feel the weight of responsibility to guide our kids and do our best to set them up for success in all areas of their life. But so many parents we’ve talked to feel that every communication attempt falls on deaf ears. They often come to us at the end of their rope and out of ideas about “how to get their teen to listen.”
There are a lot of tactics and strategies for effective communication. And a lot of them work. But we’ve found that this simple 4-step strategy is one that works very well for us and the families we work with.
So, to help you and your teen come to a solution that everyone can be happy with, here are four steps to collaborative problem solving with your teen:
As a general rule, as I’m sure you’ve found out a long time ago as parent, teenagers don’t like to be told what to do. As parents, it is our job to enforce boundaries and limited to keep our kids safe, but teens want to feel as though they have a voice in decisions that affect them.
We’ll use a scenario to make this as practical as possible:
Let’s say Jordan, a 16 year old, is a lot of time on her phone. Her parents have made comments in the past “Jordan, you’re spending too much time on your phone,” or “Don’t you have homework to do?” that has been met with shrugs and no changes in screen time. One night, after dinner, Jordan’s mother, Abby, gets fed up and tells her flat out to turn off her phone. “Why?!” Jordan begins yelling, and a heated argument quickly ensues. Abby ends up taking the phone from Jordan and grounding her from the phone for a week. Jordan storms off and slams the door.
The next few days are tense. Jordan doesn’t talk to mom except for transactional conversations. Abby feels she may have “gone too far” but hold firm to her consequence.
Here are some steps that you can take to develop a collaborative solution to any issue:
Step 1: Let everyone cool down.
Never try to solve a problem when one or both people are angry or emotional. Wait until the situation cools off, or, better yet, until you are in a pleasant moment with the other person. Do what you need to do to calm down (take a walk, remove yourself from the situation for a time, etc.) and give the other person the time and space they need to do the same.
In the scenario of Abby & Jordan, don’t try to solve it right away. It may take a few hours or even days of waiting, but wait for a time when you are together, everyone is in a good mood, and you are doing something you enjoy.
Step 2: When everyone is calm, casually together and having a good time, bring up the issue.
Maybe Abby could go out for coffee and ask Jordan to come along, or just during casual conversation over dinner or in the car. Begin the conversation with a NON-JUDGEMENTAL open ended question. It may look something like this: “Hey, yesterday you got really upset when I asked you to put your phone away. What was going on?”
Let the person with whom you have a problem talk about what happened and why it was a problem for them. Ask him or her questions to understand their side. Practice active listening. If they become defensive or accusatory, don’t dish it back. Try to repeat back what they said so you can really understand where they’re coming from.
(Note that you don’t have to AGREE with what you are saying to acknowledge their feeling). It might look something like this: “So what I hear you saying is….is that right?”
Step 3: Now it's your turn to tell them why you did what you did or reacted the way you did.
Do not tell them why they did what they did, try to fix the problem, or offer a solution. Just tell your side of what happened. The more open and vulnerable you are willing to be with your kids, the better, and focus as much as possible on YOUR feelings/thoughts rather than their actions.
Thank you for being willing to share your feelings with me. I really appreciate it. Now I’d like to share where I am coming from as well. I think part of my reaction is that I don’t feel like I’ve done a good job guiding you in your strengths and giving you opportunities to grow in the things you love. To be honest I think I feel a bit guilty about how much time you’ve spent on the phone. But I am concerned about too much screen time for you in general because it can negatively affect us physically (affects sleep patterns) and socially. I also, honestly, would like to spend more time with you and connect with you intentionally.
Step 4: Come up with a collaborative solution with the other person.
Brainstorm ideas together. Find a solution that both people can live with.
So, we have a problem, what do you think we should do to solve it?
If “I don’t know” comes out, encourage brainstorming by starting to throw out some ideas. The more the ideas can come from both of you and you can develop the solution together, the more effective it will be.
Example solution: Teenager is allowed to be on the phone until 6pm. After that, everyone’s phone gets turned on airplane mode for the rest of the night and that is family time.
This may sound idealistic, but this actually works. If you’d like more ideas and tips, watch our webinar and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Also, if you have specific questions feel free to email us at email@example.com