Adolescence is a time of an emerging new sense of autonomy. Your once seemingly predictable child can start to adapt new ways being that can make you feel as though you are living with a total stranger. It is natural and normal for parents to experience fear around keeping their teenager safe. Parent-teen conflict issues are as old as time. New ways of enhancing understanding can help foster better communication that can help parents from being shut out regarding their teen’s goings-on (a universal parental fear).
Assumptions made in relation to others can cause breakdowns in communication, and these assumptions are all too present in family conflict. Your family member may have used to have liked/disliked something, or may never have once done something so seemingly outrageous, but just like you, they can evolve and change. No one stays entirely the same throughout their lifetime.
The adolescent phase of human development is about exploring identity – trying on new ways of being, thinking, behaving. Your teen may embrace some pretty radical ideas and opinions; ones that may not align with your family’s values and belief systems. Oftentimes these are temporary. Your teen is actively engaging in the development of critical thinking skills (this is good!).
Here’s an activity that you can try with your teen to enhance understanding and connection.
Identify a current problem you are having with your teen. It could be about curfew, clothing choices, friends, a recent lapse in judgment, et cetera. In an effort to increase understanding, you and your teen are going to role-play one another. Enlist someone to play the role of interviewer; their job is to ask each of you what is going on for both parties. Try not to interrupt the other party when they are role-playing – your job is to embody your teen (you were there once too – try to embrace your teenager -y -ness!), and encourage your teen to embrace being a mom whose job is to keep her kid safe.
Interviewer: “So, I understand that you are not too fond of Lucy’s desire to hang out in the mall parking lot after school. Can you tell me about that?’
Daughter Lucy (role-playing mom): “Yeah, she is hanging out with trouble-makers! She should be coming home right after school every day to do homework so she can get good grades and make it unto a decent college”.…and so on.
Switch roles. Have the parent play the teen and inform the interviewer what is going on from their perspective.
Allow for you both to reflect on how this experience felt for you as you embodied being the other party. Were you able to see things for the other’s perspective? Were you able to truly hear the other person, or were you just listening to respond? We fear what we don’t understand, and that often cause us to reject something simply based on our lack of understanding. We hold a sense of “private logic” regarding why we do the things we do. When we seek to understand another’s private logic, we move away from judgment, and more towards connection – for example: If you found out the reason your teen did something potentially risky was because he/she desired belonging, you most likely would move away from anger, and move towards compassion and a shared sense of humanity (who hasn’t desired belonging at some time?)