In this series we have covered many of the major ways to understand what makes a teenager tick. Now it’s time to put all the pieces together and work towards restarting the relationship between you and your teenager.
Beginning again is never easy, especially when starting over demands that a person develop new habits. However, restarting a relationship with a teenager is easier than most parents think. Old habits can be replaced by new ones as long as you follow the Three Cs and keep the goals of Relationship Theory in mind.
We have also learned about the importance of three key areas – connection, control and communication. Remembering them, parents can use the following techniques to help jump-start their relationship with their teenager:
Communicating intent to change
Keeping the goals in mind
Communicating the Intent to Change
The second technique for restoring the parent-teen relationship is for parents to verbally declare their intent to restart the relationship. To do this, parents communicate the following ideas to their teenager:
1. “I’m sorry we have had a difficult relationship over the years. I will no longer fight with you or try to control you. I would just like to have a good relationship with you.”
For some parents these words may seem hard to say, but teenagers are old enough to appreciate these words of reconciliation. Imagine that someone you have been fighting with for many years one day said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship and our fighting has driven us further and further apart. How about we stop fighting and start over again? I promise not to nag, bother, attack or criticize you anymore. I will be here only as a friend who will give you advice only when you want it.” Most people would feel relieved that the battle was over and glad to have a chance to start again to build a positive connection.
Of course, words are not enough. They must be followed by action. Parents need to stick to the principles of Relationship Theory by moving to improve their connection, reduce their control and stay within the guidelines of positive and compassionate communication.
2. All along I was looking at you and relating to you as if you were still my little child. I now realize that you have changed. You are your own unique individual.”
One of the most important needs teens at risk have is the desire to be respected as autonomous individuals by their parents and teachers. Before reading this series, parents were likely to have been waging a constant war with their teenagers – trying to stop them from asserting their own identity. Relationship Theory maintains that in order to break the stalemate, parents should tell their teenagers that they now view them as independent individuals and that they respect who the teenagers are, even if they don’t always agree with their actions.
Some parents may feel that this declaration is akin to agreeing to negative behavior. However, as we have seen throughout the series, parents no longer wield full control over their teenagers. They would do much better to let go and give them their own space. In this way, recognizing their individuality is not a sign of weakness, rather it is part of an overall strategy to regain momentum in the relationship.
3. “If I am unaware of difficulties or problems in your life or am somehow glossing over any, please feel free to share them with me when you feel comfortable.”
Teenagers at risk feel alienated from their parents. They often believe that no one is interested in hearing about their problems. They also believe that their parents have a secret agenda to control and manipulate them. In order to moderate these feelings, parents need to tell their teenagers that they no longer have an agenda. Rather, they want to talk to them about what they are actually feeling. Teenagers need to feel that their parents are a sounding board, not people who will try to criticize or control them.
I once made this declaration to a young client who was suspicious of adults, including her parents and me. She felt that as a counselor, I was somehow an extension of her parent’s authority. I said honestly, “Look, I have no agenda. My only concern is for your health and happiness. If I can do anything to make your life better, please tell me.”
At the following session, I felt I was meeting a new person. All along, she had felt that her parents had sent her to me to fix her problems. Instead I was straightforward with her and told her that I was only there to help her and that I had no ulterior motive.
Keeping The Goals of Relationship Theory In Mind
The third technique for restarting your relationship is to monitor and maintain the positive changes that are made. Like any other difficult task in life, applying the Three Cs of Relationship Theory takes time and practice. When the going gets rough, parents need to remind themselves of the purpose for changing their attitude towards their teenager. They also need to remember themselves the goals of Relationship Theory. These goals are to
Develop a life-long relationship.
Motivate without coercion.
Actively listen and connect to the teenager’s inner world.
In the long run, Relationship Theory works because motivation is easier when it’s provided without coercion. Teenagers can’t be pushed to change, but they may be gently pulled in the right direction. In order to do this, a parent must step back and create a safe emotional “space” where the motivation can be accomplished. This space has to be friendly, respectful and comfortable for a teenager to exist within. It must also feel safe because safety is necessary for positive emotional growth.
Keep in mind that raising a teenager is often like being a gardener of the most beautiful garden in the world. Successful gardeners are dedicated to their gardens and to giving them all the nutrients needed for their growth. Parents too must provide the nourishment and care that their teenagers need to reach their full potential and beauty. The principles of Relationship Theory offer the right amount of emotional nourishment needed for teenagers to outgrow their at-risk behavior.