5 simple steps to truly understand your teenager

3 October 2021 — Written by Raaji Naveen

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Are you trying to understand your teenager better? Tried everything from the vast array of parenting tips but can’t make any headway? We’re here to guide you ahead. Forming a strong bond with your teenager is vital to establish the foundation for a healthy relationship in the long term. So it comes as no surprise that you want to get it right! While popular culture has driven unpopular stereotypes around parent-teenager relationships, forging an amicable and loving connection is much easier than you think.

Start by listening to them

Start by listening to them

Teenagers, like all people young and old, want to know that you are listening to them. That’s how they feel heard and understood. Teenage years can be quite turbulent for them. Things that may seem little might feel really big to them. Be it grades, bullies, or just the feeling of overwhelm. The key here is listening to their concerns instead of jumping to give them advice. Try to understand where they’re coming from and validate their emotions. By encouraging them to talk it out, you’d be surprised to know that sometimes, they might arrive at conclusions and solutions all on their own! It’s best to act as a sounding board and step in when necessary. On a side note, listening is the key to empathy, the backbone of a healthy relationship.

I vividly remember a teenager in Grade 9 who was extremely interested in sports and just didn’t see the purpose of academics. He would miss his homework, would be irregular in school and would be physically present and mentally absent in the sessions that he did attend. The teachers were also at their wit’s end when it came to support him. However, the constant input given to the learner was to stay focused, believe in himself and work on his strengths.

Five years later, he came back to the school to meet the teachers that helped him and handed out an apology for giving them a hard time. He also went on to express how grateful he was for the constant support and positive reinforcement, which helped him build his self-confidence. All of which later came in handy during college and eventually did his passion for becoming a fitness instructor.

Sometimes just being there is all that a teenager needs.

Create a safe space at home

Safe space at home is a no-brainer, right? A judgment-free environment at home can help your teenager to blossom and flourish in numerous ways. So how can you go about setting such an environment?

  • Be wary of your words

Try to avoid judgemental language and use non-violent communication instead. For example, rather than saying “you’re wrong”, say “I disagree.” Don’t rush to label things as good or bad, use judgment-free language and discuss what bothers you both. Come to a consensus together, or better still - agree to disagree!

  • Use facts over opinions

Stick to facts instead of letting your opinions cloud your judgment. Have discussions with your teen so that they can form their own ideas and opinions. When giving your opinion, be sure to mention the same and don’t let anything hamper the depth of your connection.

Create a - together time

Create a - together time

As teenagers seek freedom and turn into adolescents, they might want to spend less time with their families. This may look like bad news to you. But if you make sure to put aside some quality time to connect and bond with them, there will be a healthy relationship between you and your teenager. Find a time that both of you can agree upon and do an activity that you both enjoy! You don’t have to wait for designated times to connect with your little one. Sometimes all it takes is to stop what you’re doing and be present at the moment with them. Begin by listening, showing interest and giving them undivided attention. Not to mention, nurture empathy at every step of your time together.

Engage with each other in family meetings

Engage with each other in family meetings

Family meetings are a great opportunity to get together and discuss issues, deepen relationships and strengthen interpersonal communication. Over the years, nuclear families have become the norm. This is why it is even more important for kids to know who their parents are other than being their parents. Family meetings help build connections that otherwise would have not seen the light of the day. They are an intentional way to learn about each other and utilise non-violent communication to reflect on feelings that may be bothering your teenager. Family meetings should be a safe space for your children to express their opinions and pitch in to make decisions together.

Give them the freedom they desire

When teenagers have the freedom and autonomy to make their own decisions, they thrive in the face of uncertainty and accept challenges with open arms. So, help your child pursue hobbies that they’re passionate about. Or give them the space to make their own choices when it comes to their appearance. Include your teenager in decision-making, especially when it comes to decisions about their lives. Like the subjects they want to take up, which colleges to apply to, or their curfew time. All of these things will help them feel a sense of control over their lives. And, in turn, build a healthy relationship with you.

For instance, while I was designing the lesson plan for a topic in Biology - I had allowed the learners to create an ideal lesson plan of 7 days for a particular concept and mentioned to them that I would just execute their plan. While I was a little sceptical about their approach and was wondering about what they would include in the plan, I was taken by surprise when they actually showed “me” how an ideal lesson plan should be!

The ingredients they put together was almost a perfect concoction - there was a pre-test and post-test component, there were quizzes, there was fun, there were outdoor game activities leading to concept clarity, there was a part where the reading of the textbook content was included, there was space for self-learning and there was room for learners who needed support to be supported and those who needed further explorations to have a chance to explore and delve deeper.

Had I assumed that “I” was the “experienced” one and “I” was in control, I would have never learned from this opportunity to truly understand what it means to give teens freedom!

Make sure you practice what you preach

Actions speak louder than words, right? Telling your teenager to exercise or eat healthy won’t mean much if you don’t subscribe to the same healthy habits. For your child to trust you, they need to know and see that you’re walking the talk and not just preaching it. This is one of those parenting tips that asks parents to put their best foot forward.

I have always been a stickler for bold and confident expression of thoughts in front of a crowd and would nudge and encourage children to speak confidently with appropriate body language. Learners have always experienced me as a person who would make them do better than their best (like it or not!). However, when a learner who was about to leave school and embark on her collegiate journey wrote to me saying - “I really have learnt a lot from watching how you carry your savviness and cognizance and they are traits I hope to embody one day. “ I realised how important it is for learners to see you practice what you preach.

Avoid these mistakes with your teenager

We have understood the importance of active listening, the role of empathy and the power of freedom in raising teenagers. So, let’s get onto a few things that you should avoid doing.

  • Don’t make predictions

Your teenager shouldn’t feel boxed into a narrative or feel like their options are limited. While it’s alright to give them suggestions, don’t rush to predict what their future might be like. Let them explore what they’re capable of.

  • Don’t lose your cool when they get angry

Before we get into how you can prevent yourself from losing your cool, know that it’s alright and that you aren’t alone in feeling frustrated. So, what do you do when you feel like your anger is getting the better of you?

  1. Use the 30-second rule
  2. Take a breath before you respond
  3. Tell them that you’ll revisit the conversation and take a time out
  • Don’t be a dictator

While we briefly touched upon this above, we had to reiterate this. Yes, you can still set the rules, but be open to discussing them and hearing what your teens have to say. Encourage negotiating whenever applicable, but feel free to enforce things that are non-negotiable too.

I clearly remember my early days of teaching when I thought that I was the one who had to be in “control”, the person “in charge” and without realising, I was also converting these thoughts into actions in my day to day lessons. One fine day I had an activity in class when I asked children to teach a concept by imitating me - the way I would teach.

And I can’t help but say that while they taught the concept ever so well - the way they imitated me - made me squirm (to put it gently). That day acted as a mirror and I believe that reflection stays till date - the way we are perceived by our actions and words and body language is ever so important when having conversations with teenagers. And that definitely is not by trying to “take control” - but by trying to be open to dialogue. Once again, lead with empathy and you’ll win the heart of your teenager.

Make use of these conversation starters

Make use of these conversation starters

Now that you know what to and what not to do, let’s talk about talking points! If you’re having trouble getting your teen to talk to you, try leading with some of the following:

  • Ask them about their friends

- Why are you friends with so-and-so?

- What activities do you like to do together?

- How do you feel about your friendship with them?

  • Ask about school

- What’s your all-time favourite class?

- Who’s your favourite teacher and why?

- Did anything happen with a friend at school today?

  • Ask light-hearted questions

- What’s your favourite TV show?

- Who’s your favourite band/singer?

- Are you reading any books these days?

While these are great ideas to start with, we’d like to point out that it’s okay to allow them to decide when to share than to expect them to speak when we want them to. And to ask them how they would like to be spoken to.

In Conclusion

Be there for your teenager. Spend time listening to them. Give them a shoulder to cry on when they need it. Sometimes that’s all that they want from you. Have a safe space at home and practice empathy and non-violent communication wherever you can. While you might be tempted to solve every little problem that they encounter, give them the freedom to figure it out and they might very well surprise you! Have an open and honest conversation about how you can be a better parent and in turn, build a strong and healthy relationship with them. With that in mind, it’s vital that you understand that sometimes there may be instances where you might be doing everything right and it still might not work. Don’t give up or feel frustrated - a different context, event or a different time might be the solution. You might just have to wait for that without giving up hope. Hang in there when it gets difficult!

Would you like to read more articles about catering to your teens better? Keep an eye out on our blog and Instagram for more information. Please feel free to reach out to us at contact@beyond8.in if you have any questions that you’d like us to address!

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