Successful communication and conflict resolution with teenagers can be immensely challenging. When parents find an approach that helped, it is natural to hope it will work again. Unfortunately, as teens change and grow, those old solutions may not be effective any more. And when parents keep applying the same methods, harder, faster, more insistently, because they don’t know what else to do, problems escalate instead of resolving.
This very human phenomena is called The Einstellung Effect. David Brooks summarizes it as, “..Try(ing) to solve problems by using solutions that worked in the past instead of looking at each situation on its own terms.”
The name comes to us from the field of international affairs, but the idea of unhooking from assumptions and past solutions, looking at each situation anew in order to resolve conflicts in present time, is as valuable to parents and teens as it is to nations.
If parents are stuck, how can they apply this concept to their problems with teens? Here are some suggestions:
- Accept the current reality. We all need to acknowledge, however reluctantly, that the old ways aren’t working anymore and we need to try something new.
- Look within. What do you really want from your teen? Set aside your favorite solutions and ask yourself what your bottom line concern and need is.
- Listen to understand. What is your teen feeling and thinking? What does he/she need? Again, you don’t have to agree to listen and reflect back what you hear.
- Brainstorm. Ask yourself and your teen to open up to creative problem solving. What new ideas might help you both get what you need?
- Get support as needed. In my experience, it is never easy to put aside preconceptions, fears, hopes and past patterns. A mediator, conflict coach, spiritual counselor or therapist can help parents and teens understand and practice new approaches.
- It takes effort and time, but a willingness to change can create a bridge from the old to the new, and open possibilities for improved communication and greater harmony with teens.