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TEEN TALK by Kaston Griffin

There's a reason books on parenting teens are never in short supply.

The standard advice fails at providing more than an inadequate bag of tricks.

They try to fit soft principles into a rigid frame, which sound desirable to the frustrated parent who feels they've "tried everything." If only they had another bag of tricks to try.

As the adult with the fully developed brain, you alone will have to channel Einstein to get through to your teen. He famously said, "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."

By reading further, you are contractually shaking my hand, trusting me to show you another way of thinking, which will complement your natural instincts as a caring parent, rather than replace them.

First, let's talk about you.
You are a wonderful parent with great moral structure that you hope to pass on to your teenagers, so they're equipped to be successful in life, no matter what's thrown their way.

Now, let's also acknowledge that you are likely going through some developmental changes yourself. You are inundated with responsibilities, but seem to have shrinking power over your interactions with your teen, and all the while you are getting older and accepting the changes that come with that. This can be frustrating as a figure of authority.

Now, your teens.
They're going through puberty, a tumultuous time where the brain is frantically developing and facing a great deal of social pressures that dwarf those of the previous generation.

Right now, your teens are developing one of the most critical parts of the brain: the prefrontal cortex. This brain center is an analytical powerhouse that synthesizes information and generates unique ideas.

While the prefrontal cortex is currently practicing its analytical skills through seemingly harsh judgment of its peers and authority figures, it is actually testing a flurry of hypotheses all at once and analyzing the results of its actions.

See this as a good opportunity to exemplify how a mature brain works. If you find your teen fighting you over something, anything, use the opportunity to demonstrate how adults work out their differences by listening thoroughly, first without judgment, and then teaming up to find the solution that best satisfies each person's needs.

This brings us back to Einstein's quote. To grapple intellectually with your teen in the moment, you must learn a new, creative form of negotiation.

Parents sometimes take the wrong appraoch with their teenagers; they get stuck swapping sacrifices until both parties feel slighted. The key to coming up with creative solutions for both you and your teenager is to understand the intent behind a request first.

If your teenagers throws a fit about wanting to lift a sweets ban in the house, realize that they might not be interested in an all-cookie diet, but rather increased autonomy in general.

You want to teach your kids how to be healthy, and to teach them how to make healthy choices. This is an opportunity to expand their autonomy and teach them another skill. Give teens flexibility with household snacks in exchange for completing a nine-minute-mile run.

Eventually, their love affair with sugar cereal will fade, but the sense of athletic empowerment you give them will serve them as they choose to be increasingly healthy down the road.

For them, as torturous as taking a command may be, gaining a lifetime of greater autonomy in exchange for a single event is worth the price, even if it requires a period of training.

You could even do whatever you ask of your teenagers, with your teenagers, to show you are capable of doing what you expect of them, all the while building camaraderie.

Bonding instills healthy values without nagging or lecturing. Healthy values in exchange for a Keebler cookie (or what have you) is, what some would call, a great deal.

This is just one example of one creative solution for using your authority in a positive, generous way.

You can come up with your own ways to foster your teen's development and encourage a closer relationship through communication, if you keep a few basic tips in mind:

1. Listen first. Always take the time to listen to your teens and understand their intent. Even if you are being screamed at, they are actively analyzing your way of responding to an argument. Teach them how to communicate despite stress, by setting an example and remaining calm.

2. Accept your teenagers' feelings. Even if you disagree or find their behavior unruly, no progress can be made until you recognize that their feelings are worth understanding.

3. Apologize when you are wrong.This rule is a necessary trait of every leader in any situation. Admitting to a mistake and taking the initiative to fix it is a sign of strength.

4. Find ways to give your teens more autonomy. Loosen the reins and your teens will develop decision-making skills that will serve them for a long time to come. They will make mistakes, but those mistakes will inform them in ways no lecturing ever could.

5. Avoid nagging and guilt trips.Did these power plays work on you as a teen, or did it increase your resentment and desire to rebel? Guilt trips may be easier than a thoughtful conversation, but losing respect is only another burden.

6. Avoid asking general questions. Teens groan when you ask them a simple question: "How was your day?" Usually because they're simply not ready to give you that much information all at once, especially when they think you might be judgmental.

Instead, get specific. "Did John get that internship with his father's company?" is more direct than, "What did you and your friends do today?"

If you're patient, they may just tell you a lot more.

Ultimately, raising teens is like a challenging puzzle. If you're getting frustrated, you might actually be trying to force two pieces together when you should be looking at the big picture and attempting a different approach.

In that moment, remember that searching for connecting pieces is a labor of love.


Katie Vincent
Kaston Griffin is a Seattle writer, equally involved in professional prose and local competitive poetry.
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