There are times in the parenting (or leading and teaching) journey when this feels far from true. Your teen may not LOOK like they need you, they might not ACT like they need you and they may even SAY they don’t need you! But they do.
The cry of the teenage/emerging-adult heart is for relationships and community where three things are present – Trust, Respect and Belief. Sociologists report this drive as the key factors behind gang or ‘bikie’ culture. Such is the need of the heart that it draws a person to connection and belonging ANYWHERE these things are present. It’s true of adults too – but (hopefully) there is a greater degree of discernment to determine whether the presence of trust, respect and belief outweighs any negatives about the people or culture who are offering them.
Let’s unpack these three factors further.
What they want …Teens want to be trustworthy but they also want to believe they are capable of trustworthiness and so will crave actions and communication that demonstrate this trust and confidence.
What they fear… Questioning their decision-making skills, their ability to consider all outcomes and options, or their self management or control, translates as an absence of trust.
What to try…
- Give ample time and opportunity for your teen to explain what they do know and what they have considered (rather than assuming they haven’t really thought things through).
- Ask questions or use hypothetical scenarios to extend their awareness of potential outcomes and concerns and grow their consideration.
- Express your desire to ‘assume the risk’ for the unknown or potential consequences of a decision rather than burdening them with that when their experience or vision is limited. In other words, sometimes a parent needs to be the one who decides because the decision and its outcomes are too weighty for a young person to have to bear.
What they want… In the face of sometimes crippling self-doubt, insecurity, fear of the future and competition teens will gravitate to people and places where they are encouraged to dream big dreams and imagine an extraordinary future.
What they fear… Youth are constantly wondering if they really have what it takes to succeed in life (aren’t we all!). They don’t have the history or experience of seeing how things will play out and so their capacity to predict the future is limited. They are highly sensitive to any inference from adults in their world that what they hope for or are aiming for in their future is not possible.
What to try…
- Check any language that overloads current decisions or actions with future impact (“if you don’t do well at school you’re not going to have opportunities in work later”). Of course all choices and actions have consequences but then all consequences have options, grace and capacity for recovery. Finite, exaggerated or fatalistic language will scream dis-belief.
- Encourage aspects of character, attitude and heart that, if they continued to develop them, will open up a world of opportunities to live a productive and impact-ful future.
What they want… As teens transition into adulthood, they are super sensitive to insinuations of immaturity. While they fight for independence they want adults around them to start seeing them as emerging adults and treating them accordingly.
What they fear… Commonly the language and tone we use when talking to young people is quite different to how adults would talk to peers. We can present as quite condescending and they feel that we are unable to see them as anything other than a child.
What to try…
- Ask the question “How would I handle this situation if this were a co-worker or peer rather than a teen?” (For example, if a coworker knocked a drink over at a meal table we’d probably be quite quick to help them feel ok about the mishap rather than chastise them for their behaviour.)
- What actions or statements can you change or add to your interactions that communicate respect of their property or privacy, of their opinions and perspectives, and of their insecurities and fears?
- Consider how you could deescalate a situation by prioritising respect – both given and received.
How about you?
How have you seen this need for Trust, Belief and Respect manifest in your teens? What do you recall of your struggle with this in your own journey into adulthood? How might you leverage this knowledge to bring greater connection with your teen?