• Lesson 1: Satisfying Basic Needs — Five Basic Needs

    Five Basic Needs

    We all have basic needs that must be met on a daily basis. Our actions are efforts to satisfy those needs as best we can. Seeing your teen’s behavior in this way will make it easier for you to not take the behaviors personally and understand that her decisions are not made with the intent of making you feel a certain way. Understanding how your teen’s needs are met will help you better comprehend your relationship dynamics, shedding light on where improvements can be made. As the master in satisfying needs, your teen may be able to give you some pointers on how to better satisfy your needs. The five basic needs presented in this lesson and throughout the book—Survival, Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun—are common among human needs theorists and particular with teens.

    Survival is a vital need that does not require much elaboration. You do your best to ensure that your teen is healthy, safe, nourished, clothed, and has appropriate housing. Teenagers take on more responsibility for fulfilling this need with age. As teens begin to contribute to living costs, they learn the value of money and how essential it is to prioritize resources. They learn basic work ethics and life skills from observing you and other important adults as well as through volunteer work, internships, schoolwork, and a part-time or full-time job.

    Sex and reproduction are also included in survival. Sexual identity further develops and sexual experimentation may begin during the teenage years. Your teen will learn more about these topics from peers, health specialists, the media, and hopefully you. As your relationship improves, you will be better able to talk about puberty, sexual identity, sexual orientation, and the risks associated with sexual experimentation. You will also be better able to discuss the impact these real-life teen issues have.

    The need to belong is evident from birth and continues through family bonds, friendships, intimate relationships, and group affiliations. As social beings, we need to feel connected to others in meaningful ways and fulfill a good part of our needs through social connections. Belonging is essential to human existence; looking at the role that peers and romantic relationships play in your teenager’s life is enough to prove this point. As your teen’s concept of belonging expands beyond the confines of your home, do not despair—your bond will not disappear, but it will change in form and function. If you allow it to do so, this change can bring about deeper appreciation and respect.

    Until now, you have mostly fulfilled your child’s need to belong, creating conditions and parameters on how it manifested. Now your teen is going out into the world to find ways to satisfy the need through friendly, virtual, and romantic relationships. Extended family relationships, such as spending time with cousins or participating in a club, sport, or other group activity, also allow your teen to fulfill the need for belonging. You are still important to your teen even though you are no longer solely responsible for meeting this need. If you have difficulty accepting this, imagine having had a parent as your only friend or social group.

    It may be easier for you to understand that one person cannot satisfy all your needs than to accept that you can no longer satisfy all of your teen’s needs. The unconditional love you continue to show as your teenager approaches adulthood is important as it allows your teen to freely explore and develop personal connections and a social network. Consider your teen an explorer; you become home base, providing shelter, supplies, support, encouragement, and reassurance. If you are lucky, your efforts may result in a sign of appreciation: a note, a gift, a hug, or even the words thank you.

    Power is a misleading need. Some see it as the ability to control others while others associate it with wealth or political influence. Some, like your teen, may say that power is the ability to do what he wants when he wants. All of these definitions have a common thread: power is associated with everything outside of you, factors you may be able to influence but over which you do not have complete authority. For some, the word power suggests a magical ability to control that which we in fact cannot.

    No matter how badly you might like a person to change (or to blame someone for your misfortune), you render yourself powerless when you do so. True power is having self-control. Your reaction is not the result of what your daughter did; it is your choice. Likewise, your son does not do something because you said so; he does it because he chooses to. This is not always easy to accept, particularly when you have strong reactions to someone. The next time you start losing your cool with your teen, think of it as an opportunity to practice self-control, and remember to thank your teen!

    Having power means feeling worthwhile and having a purpose as an individual. We feel good about ourselves when we accomplish something whether we are good at it or not. Do you see the reaction on your daughter’s face when she passes her driver’s license test? How does your son feel when he passes an exam he thought he would fail? Help your teen find purpose by encouraging strengths and interests. Have a look at how you derive power, and see if you are doing all that you can to be purposeful.

    We need to feel purposeful in the context of a larger group. How children begin to feel worthwhile to others depends on what they do and the feedback received. If you or others give attention when your teen does something that goes against a rule, such behaviors are indirectly approved. Any attention is better than none, so give attention to socially responsible behaviors.

    Freedom of speech and freedom to worship are two examples of humankind’s need to live freely among others. The need for freedom is universal, and it is especially important for teenagers who embody the self-centered spirit, at times behaving as if they are the only ones in the world whose needs must be satisfied. By living in the here and now, your teen feels free to seek the greatest good in the shortest time, regardless of the impact on others.

    Selfishness has a shelf life. Your teen will learn over time—with incessant help from you and others—that others in the world also have needs. It is about having one foot in the home, attached securely to you, and the other foot outside the home, exploring, playing, seeking inspiration, and connecting with self and others. By following this natural model, your teen will come to understand that with the benefits of freedom come accountability for actions, temperance of desires, and awareness of others’ rights.

    Your patience will be tested as your teen tests the limits of freedom. It can feel like a never-ending tug-of-war between giving and taking, where taking is usually preferred. It will take time for your teen to find the balance between freedom and responsibility. Remain steadfast, because your efforts will help your teen determine when freedoms can be fully expressed and when self-restraint is recommended. When your teen takes advantage of freedom by overlooking the responsibilities that come with it, see it as a learning opportunity for both of you. The next time it happens, exercise your freedom to step back and take a breath before responding. You are free to refer to this book and exercises any time you need support!

    Fun is essential to leading a fulfilling life. Through play, children and adults practice life skills and learn about the world around them. Having fun entails pleasure and laughter, both of which are beneficial for learning and healthy for the soul regardless of age. Create opportunities for fun, because many of the moments you will recount later in life will be fond memories of joy. Rest assured that your teen will not miss such opportunities, because the teenage years are filled with activities deemed fun.

    You are probably not aware of all the recreational and leisure activities your teenager engages in, and that is most likely for the best. Jokes played on friends, horseplay with siblings, pranks played on the unwary, and even flirtatious interactions all have their purpose as your teen tries new skills and tests limits and boundaries. Some leisure activities are harmless while others are more risky, but all contain some form of pleasure. They are necessary to obtain feedback from the environment, particularly from peers, romantic interests, and you.

    Adolescents do have fun at the expense of others. Banter that is mutually dished out among friends is different from making one peer the brunt of jokes. What a teenager thinks is horseplay could be bullying. Checking in regularly with your teen and inquiring about how free time is spent will allow you to stay on top of your child’s activities. This will give you some insight into how your teen fulfills the need for fun and will help you determine whether it is done with others or at the expense of others. Your message is that all parties should be having fun.

  • Lesson 2: Examining Values — The Values of Values

    The Value of Values

    Values are personal and social ideals that we adopt, alter, and abandon over time with the goal of defining who we are and how we want others to see us. If our needs motivate us to behave, our values guide us in how we go about fulfilling those needs. For example, both you and your teen are hungry (survival), but your teen is a vegetarian, and you are not. Your values will result in your teen eating a veggie burger while you devour a bacon cheeseburger. Pay attention to how values influence how your teen satisfies his needs. Your reaction to your teen, whether favorable, indifferent, or disapproving, is not based on what your child is trying to accomplish (needs) but rather how he is going about doing it (values).

    Say that you walk into the kitchen to find the refrigerator door wide open and your teen chugging directly from the milk container—but wait, there’s more! You notice an open container of food, a used plate and fork, and crumbs littering the counter. All are signs of a hasty attempt to fill the belly. Just as you are about to say something, your teen quickly shoves the uncapped milk container onto the shelf, slams the refrigerator door, and whizzes by you with a guilty but cordial smile. Standing in a daze, you wonder why your teen couldn’t take a minute to tidy up when you have mentioned it a hundred times.

    What you respond to emotionally, behaviorally, physiologically, and intellectually is not the fact that your child was hungry and needed to eat something. It is the way that your teen went about fulfilling this need and how the behavior flew in the face of the values you have been preaching since childhood: respect, cleanliness, manners, and helpfulness. Why doesn’t your teen get it after years of indoctrination?

    The powers at work are as great as your determination to create a responsible and mature young adult. Do not despair. Your efforts are not in vain; you are dealing with a case of competing needs and values. A quick analysis would say that your child values disorder, poor etiquette, and selfishness, to name a few stereotypical teenage traits. Remember that as your teen fled—with a full stomach—a more pressing need required attention. If survival needs are met regularly without concern, your teen may take eating for granted, reducing the act to a means to fulfill a more pressing need such as fun, freedom, power, and belonging. The values that influence how your teen fulfills needs are the source of your frustration, not your teen.

    When needs compete, time and values become deciding factors, and the more pressing need will take precedence. In this case, the mess in the kitchen made it apparent how needs, time, and values influenced your teen’s choices. Chowing down was the priority. Leaving a mess was a consequence, but it allowed more time to meet up with friends, which easily ranked higher than cleaning. The values of friendship, autonomy, and adventure overshadowed the values of consideration, manners, and cleanliness.

    If your teen had to study for a biology test in lieu of meeting up with friends, it is possible that your child would have picked up afterwards because there may have been no rush to fulfill the need to study. In that case, the need of survival (eating) and belonging (cleaning up) would have trumped power (studying for the biology test). The values of consideration and cleanliness associated with the former need would have trumped academic achievement (values associated with the latter). The message is that by understanding your child’s needs and values, you can remind yourself that, in most cases, your teenager’s behaviors are not attempts to make you feel a certain way.

  • Lesson 3: EPIC Existence — How Philosophy Simplifies Parenting

    How Philosophy Simplifies Parenting

    About two thousand years ago, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (AD 55–135) was born into slavery and later banished from Rome, and the circumstances of his life rivaled the lives of the disadvantaged youth with whom I worked. Instead of succumbing to the life he was born into, he learned from it and espoused a philosophy that can be useful in developing the relationship you want with your teen. Epictetus came to believe that anyone could obtain contentment, regardless of what happens, because we are always in control of our attitudes and responses. Epictetus took this belief a step further. He said that we should embrace the difficult problems life haphazardly throws at us, because they are mental exercises and opportunities for spiritual growth.

    This is fabulous news, because there are no shortages of challenges when accompanying your child through preadolescence to young adulthood. The next time you have a challenging moment with your teen, instead of having a strong emotional reaction, thank her for the wonderful opportunity to gain wisdom and grow spiritually! You may be acquainted with the well-known interpretation of Epictetus’s philosophy, also known as the Serenity Prayer:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

    Courage to change the things I can,

    And wisdom to know the difference.

    To gain knowledge in differentiating between what is in your control and what is not, Epictetus advised accepting the true nature of things. He professed that suffering arises when you regulate that which is uncontrollable and fail to exert your influence over that which you have authority. Applying this philosophy to your teenager, the questions become the following: What is your teen’s true nature? What real control do you have over him? How can you come to accept who she is? Once you answer these questions, you can move closer to understanding what is in your control and what is not. Discerning between the two allows you to focus your energy on the former.

    Think of the last confrontation you had with your teen. How much of your emotional, mental, and physical energy was focused on things over which you had no control? If you displayed heightened emotions, loud or incoherent speech, and erratic behavior, you most likely focused on what you could not control—your teen. If you were stable emotionally, mentally, and physically, you likely focused on what you could control—you.

    If it is your teen’s nature to act impulsively, you have no control over when your teen makes an imprudent decision, one that may result in an undesirable consequence for your child and for you. It is helpful to accept this aspect of your teen and provide outlets to learn from these tendencies. If your teen inadvertently locks the keys in the car, what is the benefit of responding in anger to a situation that you know can occur at any time, even to yourself? Was your teen’s plan to inconvenience and upset you? It likely bothered your teen as much it did you.

    This is not to say that you should dismiss such events altogether, particularly if they occur often, but expect events like this to happen every now and then. When they do, you can respond in a manner that fosters understanding and learning. Would you rather have your teen accidentally lock the keys in the car or purposely lock you out of her life because you cannot control your emotions when she does something in her nature but not to your liking?

    Something else you should not dismiss is a natural model of learning your teen uses on a daily basis. I witnessed its use hundreds of times with the youth I worked with and with my sons. Adults often misunderstand the EPIC model of development, which consists of four components: Explore, Play, Inspire, and Connect. To completely embrace your teenager, let’s look at a process that can help you improve your parenting and live a more fulfilling life.

  • Lesson 4: Redefining Boundaries and Reconsidering Consequences — Life's a Beach

    Life’s a Beach

    Imagine that you just arrived at the beach for a weekend getaway. You open the door to the sound of squawking sea gulls and the smell of salty marsh air. As your senses rejoice, you feel the physiological changes occurring as your body relaxes and the sea breeze clears your head. As you search for the ideal spot to set up for a glorious day, your teen heads to the surf to join in the fun with other young people. As you approach the water to test the temperature, you feel the sand change from warm and soothing to cool and damp. Clearly the coastline is where the diverse worlds of land and sea meet, but it is not possible to draw a fixed line that shows where one ends and the other begins.

    Now that you are an expert in identifying needs and values and applying the EPIC model, you have a deeper understanding of why the beach is so enticing. Playing in the surf satisfies the need for fun and most likely the needs for freedom, power, and belonging. Some values expressed while playing in the waves are adventure, challenge, competition, creativity, determination, risk taking, friendship, and appreciation of nature. While the teens are exploring, playing, inspiring, and connecting with themselves and others, another factor is contributing to the enjoyment other than vast amounts of moving water and an abundance of sunshine.

    The romping around occurs within a boundary that is unclearly defined, natural, out of human control, and always changing. Your teen is constantly assessing what boundaries to respect and which ones to test based on confidence and ability. Gently rolling one-foot waves bring about one set of conditions and activities such as a wave-hurdling competition. Formidable six-foot swells alter the nature of the land-water boundary. Bodysurfing may now be the game of choice with your teen asking the following questions:

    Confidence and Self-Esteem

    How far out do I go?

    How big of a wave can I handle?

    What will they say if I am not as good or I stop before they do?


    Can I catch the wave at the right time?

    How long can I hold my breath under water?

    How good is my form and technique?

    Physical Condition

    How much more abrasion can my skin take from the sand and stones?

    How much longer can I hold off thirst/hunger?

    How much longer can I go without a rest?

    When boundaries are exceeded while playing in the surf, the consequences become clear, and adjustments constantly need to be made to avoid undesired effects. Going out too far, when you can no longer touch the ocean floor, results in a loss of security. Getting caught up in crisscrossing waves can send you tumbling, resulting in a loss of orientation and a nose full of salt water, reminding you of the ocean’s force.

    There are even unfavorable consequences for bodysurfing too well. Catching the ideal wave with perfect timing and form could strand you like a beached whale (with a bathing suit full of sand and abrasions from being sandpapered by stones as you rocket onto shore). In this case, the glory of achievement outweighs the damage. Within seconds, the burning of salt on raw skin is replaced with a rush of adrenaline and the desire to do it again. You know how good it felt when a limit was taken to the edge with great success, and you have the battle wounds to prove the victorious outcome.

    Boundaries that are naturally defined (with uncertain consequences) are ideal for growth and development. This type of learning environment provides sufficient space to explore, play, inspire, and connect, and it requires little or no outside interference except an occasional check-in. It provides your teenager with continuous feedback to make on-the-fly adjustments. Allowing this process to repeat in various settings with different players and conditions provides invaluable opportunities to test limits, develop skills, make discoveries, and build confidence. All these contribute to your teen’s development and identity.

  • Lesson 5: Connecting with Your Teen — Do Today What You Wish for Tomorrow

    Do Today What You Wish for Tomorrow

    It is natural to want to know what is going on with your teenager, but if you haven’t taken the time to lay a foundation for a communicative relationship with mutually agreed-upon needs, values, ground rules, and caring gestures (and have not taken steps toward maintaining it), your desire will be met with frustration. It is unreasonable to expect that your teen will candidly talk with you or honestly answer probing questions if previous interactions haven’t supported such an exchange. Think of the roads where you live. Which ones do you take? Which do you avoid? The same holds true in relationships. If your teen feels that your relationship is not well maintained and worthy of travel, he will avoid it.

    You may find great advice from parenting magazines, books, and blogs, but only conscious and deliberate interactions will change the dynamic. Effort, trial and error, and patience will get you there. If you want to know what is going on today with your teen, look at how your interactions went yesterday. Likewise, if you hope that your teenager will share something with you tomorrow, be mindful of the type of interactions you are having today. What message do you send when you only become interested in your teen when there is an issue?

    The quality of your relationship evolved over time and didn’t start when your child turned thirteen. This explanation is too simple, and it omits a valuable contributor to the process: you. It is not too late to form a desired relationship with your teenager. A new path can always be carved out and constructed if the one you are on is not taking you where you want to go.

    Start now. Improve your understanding of your teen and increase the trust between you by having regular, quality interactions that show interest and care, without criticism or confrontation. Like any skill, it requires time and practice. Make your interactions count. Ensure that they are regularly scheduled so that you can both plan for it and minimize excuses.

    How much time with your teen is devoted to maintaining and strengthening the relationship? Are you looking at how you are satisfying your respective needs? Are you reexamining values and inquiring about how your teen is exploring, playing, inspiring others, being inspired, and connecting with herself and others? Are you examining the effectiveness of rules and opening up boundaries as your teenager transitions into young adulthood? Are you incorporating new gestures and routines that show that you support her development?

    The quality of a relationship is not measured by the quantity of time spent in another’s presence but by what you are doing together. You sitting in the same room for an hour engaged with some form of electronic device instead of your teen brings as much quality to the interaction as it does for the chair your teen sits on. An engaging five-minute phone conversation provides better quality. Are you focused and giving your undivided attention to what your child is doing? How does your teen know that you are paying attention to him?

  • Lesson 6: How You Communicate — Promoting Dialogue

    Promoting Dialogue

    You may not always praise your teen for doing what is expected, and conversation about what your teen is doing well may fall by the wayside, giving way to what she is not doing well. If she is not doing what is expected, that means that you have to expend energy reminding, redirecting, and enforcing consequences. This can be exhausting and frustrating and begin to doubt your effectiveness as a parent. Irresponsible behaviors need to be addressed, and there are ways to make this a conversation rather than speaking at your teen. Below are two conversations addressing an issue with homework. The first parent’s approach does not promote dialogue. You model a more effective way of communicating in the second example.

    Example A

    Parent: Do you have homework tonight?

    Teen: Yes.

    Parent: Okay, so get to it! You haven’t been doing a good job of getting it done. I’m tired of getting e-mails from your teachers telling me how late you are with your homework. Your grades are slipping, too, and that shows that you are not studying enough.

    Teen: Yeah, I know.

    The child did not need to think much about the first question, because it did not encourage dialogue but only invited a yes-or-no response. This question could also result in an “I don’t know” response, which would cause the parent to become more irate. The parent’s comments show urgency and frustration, but the focus is only on how the situation is affecting the parent and not how the teen is being affected or what may be contributing to the teen’s inability to complete homework. How would you respond if you were the teen?

    Example B

    You: What do you have to do for homework tonight?[1]

    Teen: Um, I have biology and an English essay to write.

    You: What else do you have to study?[2]

    Teen: I have to study for a math quiz.

    You: How prepared are you for the math quiz?[3]

    Teen, sitting down: I know most of it and need to review a few sections I’m unclear about.

    You, sitting down next to your teen: I have been in contact with some of your teachers, and I know you have been struggling to keep up with your homework and grades. What do you think is getting in the way of your schoolwork?[4]

    Teen: I don’t know. (Silent for a moment.) I’ve been having difficulty staying focused, but I’m not in the mood to talk about right now.[5]

    You: Okay, when you are ready, I’d like to hear more. If you need help with something that is unclear, let me know. I’ll come up in a bit to see how you are doing. Maybe you’ll be more in the mood to talk then.[6]

    Teen: Okay.

    If your teen has no homework, you can ask what is being taught at the moment or if there are any upcoming quizzes or tests. In addition to generating conversation and showing interest in your teen’s education, you are promoting the value of preparedness, because there is always something to study or review. All of your questions are open-ended, which requires your teen to think and encourages dialogue rather than a yes or no.

    The most noticeable difference between the two examples is the perspective from which the issue was conceptualized and approached. In the second, you were nonconfrontational and asked for your teen’s perspective, which promoted understanding and support. It is okay for you to acknowledge how your teen’s behavior affects you and others, but it is equally important for you to acknowledge how your teen’s struggles are affecting him. You did both.

    You went a step further by giving support with studying and offering a listening ear. Even if your teen is not ready at that moment to talk, by showing interest in what is going on in her life, you let your teenager know that you are open to listening. Allowing the conversation to be at a time that is right for her—not when you want it to happen—shows that you are respectful of your teen’s needs.

    The concept of mirroring is similar to following your teen’s lead. Mirroring helps promote dialogue, because it tells the other person that you are following along. You can tell when two or more people are into a conversation by looking at how they imitate each other’s verbal, nonverbal, or paraverbal communication. You provided examples of both nonverbal and verbal mirroring, which are mentioned in the footnotes. Other forms of nonverbal mirroring include crossing arms and legs or leaning forward in a chair. An example of paraverbal mirroring is increasing your volume and raising your tone in response to the other person’s loud voice.

    The next time your teen has a friend over, pay attention to their interaction, and watch for all three forms of mirroring. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you will pick up on it. Try to notice when you are mirroring someone. When you catch yourself crossing your legs or folding your arms, see whether the person you are talking to is doing the same. The more mirroring that occurs, the more engaged you are; it’s like singing along to a favorite song.

    Mirroring has another benefit. If you are becoming agitated while your teen is keeping a level head, mimic your teen’s cool demeanor even though you may not feel like it. If your teen is becoming upset, display a calm manner, with the hope that your teen will follow your lead. If your teen sees you maintaining composure, he may do the same.

    Observing how you are communicating is important in gauging how a conversation is developing. In a heated debate, going from a standing position to sitting is a nonthreatening, “backing down” gesture. Your teen may relax more and mirror the behavior. Maybe your teen was standing with arms crossed, but after you sat down, her arms fell. If the arguing starts going back and forth like a tennis match, stop talking. It may take a moment for your teen to realize that you’ve stopped talking. She could be venting and your silence allows her to do so. You can calmly say, “Listen, I’m sitting quietly now. I’d appreciate you lowering your voice. I am listening.” Her energy level may drop as she mimics your way of communicating.

    The more ongoing dialogue you have, the more informed you will be. When something comes up, you will have an idea of what is going on based on information learned in previous conversations. The less you know about what is going on with your teen, the more you rely on your imagination. You are most likely creating a false and inflated picture and developing attitudes toward these untrue beliefs, causing unnecessary stress and panic. By assuming the worst, you are likely to respond authoritatively when you become aware of a problem.

    Your last statement in the conversation is one of support; you say that you will check in later to find out what may be interfering with school and grades and offer help with homework if needed. It is possible that your teen may still not be ready to talk, but you can always check in again. Following through with what you say shows the level of importance you place on his well-being, education, and life. You also promote the values of dependability and reliability. Checking in is a caring gesture that improves the overall health of the relationship.

    Not all questions need to be an attempt to see how responsible your teen is being. Inquire about your teen’s favorite activities and interests. Ask thought-provoking questions such as her views on religion, politics, philosophy, art, and current events. You may be pleasantly surprised by her opinions and knowledge and will have a better understanding of how she conceptualizes the world. This information provides insight into how she goes about navigating life. Increasing the frequency of conversations that highlight competence and interests makes it easier to approach more difficult topics. More importantly, you will be the parent who genuinely cares, not the parent who gets involved only when something is wrong.

    [1] Unlike the first example, you assume that there is homework and are more direct. This shows that you are aware.

    [2] Having received some information, you inquire more, which helps your teen to remember and prioritize.

    [3] Your teen’s answer gives you more information, which allows you to inquire about her preparedness.

    [4] By sitting down, you mirror your teen’s nonverbal behavior, giving your attention in a nonconfrontational way. Your teen’s answer allows you to segue into issues at school. As important, you ask her opinion.

    [5] You give time to answer and learn there is something going on, but for now your teen does not care to say more.

    [6] You respect your teen’s request and make yourself available. The words “unclear” and “in the mood” are italicized as they are examples of verbal mirroring.

  • Lesson 7: Ensuring Health and Wellness — Staying Cool When You Are Feeling Hot

    Staying Cool When You Are Feeling Hot

    Think of the last time you became angry at something your teen did or said. How did your body respond? What did you think? How did you feel? How did you handle the situation?

    Regardless of what unpleasant situation you end up in with your teen, remember that your response is your choice. Just as you do not accept excuses for your teen’s irresponsible behavior, you cannot blame your teen for your reaction. What can you do to remain calm if you are about to enter a confrontation with your teenager?

    Let’s look at what you know about creating a dynamic that is pleasant during conversations with the potential for high emotion. Background information can increase your understanding and lessen your anxiety and fear. To that end, answer as many of the following questions prior to the potentially heated discussion to detach emotionally and improve your understanding of why your teen is behaving in such a way.

    Preconversation Questions

    • What needs are driving your teen’s behaviors? If there is a dilemma, what needs are competing?
    • What values are influencing your teen’s behaviors? Which of your values did your teen’s behavior challenge? What values will help facilitate the discussion? What values can you incorporate into your life?
    • How did the behavior help your teen explore, play, inspire others, be inspired, or connect with self and others?
    • What natural and created boundaries were in question? Which ones were played with or crossed? What was the desired outcome for doing so? If necessary, how can you include your teenager in renegotiating boundaries?
    • What shadow side was displayed, and how was it developed through the behavior? How did your teen show resiliency?
    • What skills were practiced or interests shown?
    • What decisions can you commend (or what behaviors can you highlight) that showed competency and responsibility? Ask open-ended questions to find out.
    • Based on recent discussions with your teen, what other information could be applicable to the behavior or situation? How can you help your teen make these links? 

    Even after doing this preparation, you may still disagree with the behavior and outcome, but doing your homework permits you to look for strengths to build upon. You will have background information that will ease emotions, promote dialogue, and improve understanding. You also have tools to further understanding, keep the lines of communication open, and continue building a healthy relationship. Let’s review.

    Conversation Toolbox

    • You know how to effectively use the three components of communication: verbal, nonverbal, and paraverbal.
    • Mirror your teen’s communicative style or, if necessary, have him mimic yours.
    • Maximize listening by giving your full attention, rephrasing key points, asking open-ended questions, withholding judgment, allowing silence, and letting your teen break it.

    There are three possible outcomes to any discussion. You and your teen may agree, disagree, or be ambivalent or unresponsive. No matter how well prepared (or right) you think you are, there is no guarantee of being in agreement. Is reaching an agreement always necessary?

    If you can reach an agreement, congratulations! With some dialogue and negotiations, you settled on consequences, and possibly made changes together to boundaries. You may be shaking your head, asking, “When does that happen?” It may not be the norm, but if there is mutual respect, understanding, and trust in the relationship, this will be a more frequent outcome. Like seasoned negotiators who meet regularly, eventually you will come to the table having a good idea what your teen will ask for and what you expect in return.

    When agreement or understanding is not reached, you need to know when you both have said everything, and accept that at this time there is no agreement. In the field of negotiation, the acronym BATNA stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. It is better to stop with no agreement and put the conversation on hold than to have a conversation that further damages the relationship. You do not want to say or do something that you may regret. Focus on keeping the lines of communication open. Make preserving the relationship your BATNA.

    Like the use of silence, a complete break in a conversation can allow time to reflect. Use this time to reconsider your stance and your teenager’s viewpoint. Review in greater detail your preconversation questions. Use new information to increase your understanding of the situation and ease your emotions. Neither of you wants issues to linger, particularly if other things are contingent upon the resolution.

    What are the signs that a conversation is not going well? Be aware of your physiological response—your body will let you know if you are having difficulty accepting what you are hearing. Raising your voice, sweating, pacing, clenching your fists or teeth, or feeling your heart rate increase are signs to end the interaction and come back to it when you are calmer.

    Pay attention to mental cues as well. Thoughts like “This child never listens,” “When will my son get it?” or “My daughter is hopeless.” If you start swearing in your head or having aggressive thoughts, it is definitely time to stop the conversation and walk away. If you are calm enough to say that you need a break, do so. If not, just walk away. You can always explain your departure later. Better to walk away without communicating than to stay and communicate risky thoughts. If your teen cannot calm down, suggest taking a break and tell her that you need to step away. Refer to Lesson 5 if you need some help rebuilding the relationship.

    Ambivalence, or no response from your teenager can be even more difficult to handle. With refusals or outbursts, you at least have a point from which understanding can improve. Apathy can leave you guessing what your teen is thinking and feeling and have you formulating scenarios that are likely not true. You may take offense, because you are not being acknowledged. Stop before your thoughts and emotions get the best of you.

    When there is conflict or ambivalence, there could be something more concerning that your teen needs to address before the present issue can be resolved. Recall from Lesson 4 the section on anxiety disguised as defiance. Ask if there is something else before continuing. You will not subdue your teenager with force. You will only give him more reason to retreat and be unresponsive. Remember your BATNA.

    When you reach an impasse, shift the focus. Do something fun, and get your mind on more pleasant thoughts. Your teen most likely desires a break as well. You can go your separate ways, or you can invite your teen to join you. This shows that although you may not be happy with where things stand, you are not holding a grudge. Just because you did not come to an agreement does not mean that you cannot do something together. Doing something fun together now could help you reach a solution later.

    Debriefing with a friend, partner, or family member can help when you are stuck. Talking with someone allows you to vent and process the event. As you discuss the situation, you may realize something that was ineffective in your approach. The person may also have feedback or share a similar situation and how she handled it. If you cannot find anybody to talk to but still feel the need to talk, you can write down your thoughts.

    Once you have worked through a difficult conversation with your teenager, it is helpful to talk about the process later. Focus on what helped, what went well, and what can be done to facilitate dialogue. Give your child space to share his experience. Processing after arguments improves communication, a lesson in listening and understanding.

    Outcomes of any interaction may be influenced, but there are no guarantees. Instead, develop and refine a healthy communicative process. Your overall wellness is shown through how you interact. Your individual well-being influences the shape of the relationship, and the health of your relationship influences your individual well-being. Take care of both.

  • Lesson 8: Fear Not, Let Go, and Move On — Moving on with the End Goal in Mind

    Moving On with the End Goal in Mind

    What are you trying to accomplish with your teen? Maybe the more appropriate question to ask is what your teen is trying to accomplish during these transformative years. Have you directly asked your teenager that question? If so, what was the answer? Did he want to be valedictorian? Be proficient in three languages? Play two instruments? Develop talents in several sports? Graduate at the top of the class from an Ivy League university and work in a certain profession for the next forty years?

    Are these the end goals? Is it not better to live responsibly, respectfully, contentedly, and purposefully? At the end of the day, does it matter that your teen didn’t make the varsity team or the dean’s list, wasn’t accepted into the school you had hoped, or did not choose your preferred profession? Be happy if your teen has a direction, and support it. Your teen is trying to fulfill her desires, not make your dreams come true. Let your teen take care of her business, and you can take care of your own.

    The purpose of letting go is to allow both of you to move toward the next phase of life. You may be asking what that looks like for your teen, and that answer may not exist yet. This question may be more pertinent for you. You may be established in a job, but is it the right fit for you? Is it allowing you to give and grow? Are you able to perform to your potential?

    The answers to these questions will surface. We all would like to know ahead of time what awaits us, but for most of us, life doesn’t work that way. No one arrives at a point without having to travel there. You must be courageous enough, like your teen, to embark on the journey. Do not underestimate the learning that can occur along the way.

    Having a framework that allows the process to unfold and get you closer to who you are is most important. The eight lessons presented in this book can help you with this process if you internalize the material, apply the techniques, and trust the process by allowing your teen’s life and yours to unfold. This is not only a book on parenting teens. It is also a guide on living your life as you were meant to be. Self-actualization is a never-ending process.

    You can get lost by not paying attention to your internal map, but there is always time to change the road you are on. We all carry an internal compass to guide us. Your teen is always looking at his compass, seeking, searching, and exploring. He may seem lost, because he is deciding which road to take, sometimes taking the scenic route or going off the trail and discovering uncharted territories. Encourage your teen to get lost in discovery, and follow his lead. Heed the call to change direction for the sake of learning, no matter how frightful it looks from the outside or how messy it feels from the inside.

    You will never be able to completely prevent your teen from becoming who she is, and attempting to do so can come at the expense of the relationship. You cannot suppress your nature for too long without a consequence. Join your teen on her journey, and be open to taking one yourself. Move on. Go instinctually with what you desire to do and see where it takes you.

    If your child’s ambitions seem farfetched, do not put him down for having outlandish thoughts. Even the most unusual of aspirations has elements that can be encouraged. If your teen wishes to become a professional athlete, do not shatter that dream. Are the chances slim? They may be, but that is not the point. You have a place from which you can start. See what qualities can be extracted and championed. What qualities do professional athletes possess? Think about the importance of training, nutrition, physical fitness, discipline, dedication, learning, and resiliency in handling disappointments. Is there anything on this list that you would discourage your child from doing, regardless of the path he chooses? Your child will realize his chances of making a living in professional sports (or any other profession he chooses). Do you think all professional athletes had the full support of their parents?

    Let life be your child’s lesson, because you have no idea what will become of your teen. This is up to her to figure out. In the meantime, support your child’s development, and instill the values that will help her be successful as a person, regardless of what she becomes.

    Your teen requires guidance, and so do you. You are not clueless and neither is your teen. Avoid the trap of perceiving your teen as always needing redirection. Your lack of confidence in his ability to maintain order may result in you dictating what needs to be done. The more you influence decisions, the less confident he will become, and in the end, your fears will become an unwanted reality. Give your child opportunities to prove his worth. That is true power.

    This lesson requires you to think on a larger scale, to look at the big picture, and to decide what matters. All this talk about adolescence may have you digging deep within and reconnecting with your own youthful spirit. As your teenager moves from adolescence to adulthood, you can hold on to the past that is slipping through your fingers and be left out of the transformational process, or you can release your grip on what no longer exists, open up your heart and hand, and join your teen on her journey right now.