For 5 years when I first started my work as a Psychologist, I worked for Family Services in West Vancouver where I focused on dysfunctional families referred through the public school system, police and probation.
I thought of these kids as “BC’s best” and mostly they were hopeful, resilient, and crafty and making the best out of some tough and tense circumstances at home and at school. They were also hard to handle – it was easy for me to talk with them as they got to skip school to “go see the shrink.” I remember one parent who asked if I knew of a monastery in Africa where he could send his 16-year old son. (Didn’t know of one.)
Some of the parents were excellent in loving and guiding their kids and some were clearly working out their own difficulties in marriage and life through their offspring. Some of these kids became the “Identified Problems” of the greater family tension.
Along the way, I worked up some principles for parents living with teens. These days I am having a resurgence of parents seeking help with their kids and I thought this list might make some sense to some. If nothing else, it might help parents remember what they hoped for when they were teens.
So for parents, in random order as it occurs to me…
— Be careful about criticism of anything. Even when you think you are only making a comment, it may well be experienced as another of a long list of judgments.
— Focus on your teen’s emotions. Kids “naturally” emotionally reason and this can seem illogical to you as a parent.
— Think about what depression looks like in a teen. Sometimes it is in withdrawal and sometimes it is in acting out aggressively. When your child is acting hurt and harmed, wonder about how his inner life is going.
— Say as little as possible and especially about your own experience, unless asked. When kids talk they want to talk and not listen to your thoughts.
— Don’t believe in “teachable” moments. Let your kid talk without your interruption.
— Ask questions that can be answered. Questions like, “Do you want to suggest with me 3 or 4 ideas from which you can choose?”
— Experiment in thinking in non-absolutes. If you have a 70% good relationship with your kids, then celebrate that. Don’t overly prod and provoke the 30% that is not the best.
Okay, that’s enough for today. In fact, that’s probably enough for a few days. I will post a few other ideas in a bit.