Parents of teens are generally not described as being in their most zen period of life. The stereotyped teen is often described as possessing characteristics such as fierce eye rolling, dismissive grunts, and a general disdain for our very existence. These characteristics are not conducive to warm and fuzzy times. Parents are often firmly in the grips of the existential and practical realities of being adults. This melting pot of parental and teen related realities can affect our relationships with our teens. Whilst we are going through our own stuff, it can be incredibly helpful to remember that how WE interact with our kids can massively impact how things roll. It is valuable to reframe the lens that we are seeing our kids through and how we relate to them.

What happens when we only focus on the negative?

To be fair the marketing on teens is not great and those cliches ring too true. Teenagers are portrayed as messy, lazy, uncooperative, unreasonable, selfish and uncommunicative (except when communicating their wants and needs). It feels easy to slip into only focussing on their negative traits. But when we only focus on the negative, we tend to get very stuck. We are only seeing one picture without nuances. What we focus on tends to grow! Our response to our kids in a continually negative light can negatively impact how they view themselves in the world which affects their ability for self- compassion, developing healthy self-esteem and a good sense of self efficacy in the world.

The power of reframing for parents

Reframing something means taking a thought, situation or behaviour and looking at it from another angle. As parents when we open ourselves up to this possibility ( which admittedly is not always easy and nor diminishing of the reality of a situation!) it opens us up to understanding ourselves and our kids better, positively impacting our relationships. When teenagers feel understood and seen rather than dismissed or judged, we increase the capacity for connection. And connection is something we want to hold onto during and beyond the teen times.

“How many legs do you see?” Shift your focus change what you see.

 

What can help us reframe things with our teens?

Avoid absolutes

When we get stuck in absolutes, we fail to see the probability of movement and change.

Instead of: “ He is always disrespectful/ messy/ revolting to his sister.” We can try and shift our perspective to something that is more mindful and recognises that change is inevitable. “ He is going through a challenging patch/ seems to be struggling with something at the moment.”

Absolutes, also restrict us from seeing things in a more nuanced way. Sometimes we make the absolute reflect the whole of the person. So yes, messiness and rudeness are part of his story but there are other parts too and it is helpful to remember that.

Try, “There are parts of him that I am really struggling with, and I love how he tells a story or watches a match or explains an experiment.”

Remember we are not denying, dismissing or being unresponsive to the challenging parts but we are remaining open to other perspectives too.

Remember to normalise

There is a lot going on for teenagers developmentally, so many changes in their brains, bodies and minds and much going on hormonally, emotionally, academically, creatively, and socially. This does not excuse the extraordinarily challenging moments for us as parents, but it helps contextualise and normalise what is going on for them. If we just ignore this reality, then we are continually going to be hitting our heads against those brick walls. What feels deeply personal and worrying may be age-appropriate behaviour that is going on for many a teen.

So instead of: “She shuts herself off in her room and just hates me.” We could try, “She is 15 years old and increasingly needs her privacy which is age appropriate, I am finding that quite hard as I feel shut out of her life.”

Instead of “What’s wrong with them they are always going to bed so late, it drives me mad.” We could try, “It is normal for teens to start going to bed later as their internal sleep clock shifts to a later time, but I am worried they are not getting enough sleep.”

Actively seek out the positive

When its feeling overwhelming and you are in the very thick of challenging times, it can be hard to try and reframe any aspect of parenting a teen going through a tricky patch. That’s why, like stealth detectives, we must be on the lookout for the positives and actively point them out. We must consciously tune in to noticing them, even when they seem tiny.

Instead of, “You are always leaving the kitchen in a total mess its disgusting.” We can try, “I think it’s great that you are enjoying baking and that cake you made was delicious. When you bake, I need you to also tidy up afterwards. I know it’s the annoying part, but it must be done.”

Be gentle on yourself

To reframe things, we need to try and be more conscious, empathic, mindful, and present and often that requires energy. These elements are often hard to access. Trying to see things from a different perspective, allowing us to respond differently takes practise and we are going to get it wrong at times, getting stuck in entrenched patterns. That’s normal and when we are reflective and forgiving, we can grow and move forward.

So instead of, “I am the worst parent, I just lost it! I have messed up my child and my relationship with them.” We can try, “Parenting gets rough. I find it hard sometimes. I am taking a deep breath and will try speaking to them later.”

Its good to know that in teen times that can feel overwhelming and out of control, we have the option of reframing things differently and perhaps moving forward more positively.