How to Parent a Teenager, part 1
Now that you have walked through the looking glass and have become the parent, that same universal rule is just as true as when you were a teenager. The problem you are having with your son or daughter has very little, if anything, to do with your spouse, and probably has very little to do with your teenager, too. So who has the problem?
Let’s see, who is left?
You can’t communicate. I know you are thinking he means other people who are reading this article. He can’t mean “Me?” “After all, I’m a negotiator for the International Monetary Fund. I face down Mafioso kingpins and get them to spill the beans. I can talk to the homeless or to Kings and Queens. What do you mean I can’t communicate, I won a gold medal in the Olympic debating team, I could convince a Osama Bin Laden to eat Gefilte Fish for crying out loud!”
Still, a piece-of-cake compared to the average teenager.
A dialogue with anyone else is sort of like mud wrestling, you have a fairly long time to work out your strategy, there’s a lot of give and take, and the game doesn’t end on the first move.
Alternatively, a dialogue with a teenager is like a B-movie shoot-out at high noon, you only get one shot. If you don’t say the right thing the first time, generally speaking, your goose has been cooked. Teenagers have the patience of a stock broker during a crash, and some are worse than that.
Groucho Marx said, "People who agree with me tend to be right." Communicating with people who agree with us is not communicating, it’s nodding.
We tend to self select the people around us, and so we delude ourselves into thinking we can talk to anyone, that we are masters of the witty repartee. Such delusions dissipate when faced with your teenager in a bad mood. In fact, any angry teenager of no special education or IQ can fell the best Harvard debating team in under a minute.
Teenagers are our personal shot of reality: We need to improve our communication skills. Practically speaking, we have to figure out what is going on in our teenagers’ mind; yes, they do have one; the evidence is in how quickly they aggravate us. It’s not a coincidence or accident that you blow up every time you engage with them, that’s their plan – it’s pure genius.
I shouldn’t really tell you this since I signed the "Official Teenage Secrets Act." But after hundreds of years of doting parents, teenagers have honed impeccable survival techniques, one being, "A good offense is the best defense."
It’s sort of like certain brightly colored animals that have a foul taste, prompting predators to leave them alone. Similarly, teenagers know that if they can get our blood pressure above 140 we will generally let them wear whatever they want for the rest of their lives.
Communication comes from understanding.
One of the first things to understand is how your teenager throws you off. A common parental mistake is thinking of teenagers as children, or even babies. Parents still see them as those cute cuddly “I love you daddy/mommy” smiley helpless balls of fun.
This is dangerous. It’s a sort of medieval camouflage children have developed to mask what’s really going on. Instead, think of your teenager as a supreme Black-Belt Ninja Warrior…… in the art of avoiding parents that is.
We tend to react to the things our teenagers throw out – and that’s their plan. They on the other hand are highly skilled demons of obfuscating the issue. For a teenager, getting you to blow your cool is a win.
Think about it. When you are engaged in a heated battle with your teenager, did they ever agree with you just to get you off their back? No, of course not, because that’s their plan.
Wicked, isn’t it?
You really need to go back to school, combat school that is. As such, all good battles start with a plan. Start by answering this question:
What things does your teenager say to you that throws you off?
Sometimes it’s, “You only care about yourself.”
Could be, “Why should I listen to you, you never did that.”
Or maybe, “The only reason you care is to keep up appearances.”
There isn’t enough space in the internet for me to write all the different lines teenagers use. But, the line they do use is the one that gets you. They know your weakness, and they will keep using it until you change your reaction.
And here your spouse really can help. They can help you articulate your teenagers line, and what the response should be. If you follow the plan, you will see your teenager get completely confused, they didn’t train for this. However, the key is that confrontation rarely works. A different way to say this is, your teenager has to feel you are on their side or they will simply disengage.
I wouldn’t say this is easy, but it will help immensely if you calmly discuss the plan with your spouse.
However, the truth is, this way is a lot easier than being combative, and of course there is always that nuclear sub you’ve been wanting to build.