In a previous edition of Urban Family, I wrote an article which highlighted how understanding developmental changes in the adolescent brain could help to provide a framework for responding to related observable changes in an adolescent’s personality and behavior. Specifically, I noted how the rapid growth and restructuring that occurs in the brain during the teenage years helps to prime adolescents for a time in their lives geared towards developing peer relationships, taking risks and trying new things. This time can also include exploring their own talents, passions and belief systems as they face the inevitable launch into adulthood.
While the article was well-received, a number of parents contacted me requesting more specific feedback on how to apply what was learned about the adolescent brain to help build more effective communication channels with their adolescent children.
From this, I have taken the liberty of developing a ‘Teen Talk Checklist’ which advises strategies derived from research and clinical application over my time as a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of children and families. While the items on the list are in no particular order, the more strategies parents are able to utilize in their daily interactions with their teens, the more effective they will be at connecting with their children on a meaningful, intimate level.
The Teen Talk Checklist
1) Take on the teen’s perspective.
In attempting to connect with your teen, you’ll need to consciously move from the position of an outside observer of the child’s experience, to that of an active and involved participant. This can be accomplished by asking yourself the question, “What would I need right now if I were in my child’s shoes?” while also using statements that convey genuine curiosity and interest in your child’s experience such as “What was that like for you?”
2) Validate and contain the teen’s feeling states.
In addition to aligning yourself to your child’s perspective, you’ll also want to provide affirmation and validation towards their feeling states (an important step that parents frequently overlook). This can be done by providing process commentary about what you see happening for your child on an emotional level through phrases such as, “I can see how this made you feel…” or “That must have made you feel really…” It’s only after you have validated your child’s feeling states that you can switch gears and provide more explicit direction and support for what to do in a situation.
3) Use self-disclosure and humility to your advantage.
It will be helpful to consider the importance of well-timed self-disclosures in your role as a supporting adult in your child’s life. A thoughtful self-disclosure is useful in that it humanizes you as a parent and helps the teen feel less alone in their struggles. Real healing can only take place when your child experiences you less as an adult simply talking down to them as a child, and more as a kind, compassionate and consistent human being in whom they can relate and confide.
4) Trust that everything being said has meaning.
This helps to demonstrate that you are engaged and that you place value in what your child considers important enough to talk about, even if at first it may be seemingly insignificant. If you can have the patience to really listen closely for the smaller details in what your child is saying, you’ll be demonstrating to them that you know how to be there to hear them out when they choose to go deeper into their issues.
5) Remain aware of your own feeling states.
I encourage all parents in the families that I work with to make sure they are performing regular ‘self-check-ins’ to recognize which of their own needs are not being met, as it will likely have an impact on their capacity to effectively attune to the needs of their children. Monitoring and exercising self-care is critical for parents not only because they are entitled to it, but also because their children deserve a positive model for what healthy mental and emotional functioning looks like.
Dr. Balfanz is the Senior Clinical Psychologist at American Medical Center, a comprehensive medical and mental health service clinic for children, adolescents, adults and families living in Shanghai. For more information on clinic services, contact Dr. Balfanz at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.drnatebalfanz.com