How can parents stay loving and detached but still listen when challenged by preteens and new teens?
My favorite pediatrician, T Berry Brazelton, advises parents of teens who are being challenged or insulted to say calmly, “I’m interested in what you have to say, but you’ll have to find another way of saying it.” (Press Democrat Tuesday December 13, 2011)
I think this one sentence can be immensely helpful to parents, and actually everyone in a difficult interaction. Let’s take a closer look at the wisdom and instructions in this concept.
“I’m interested in what you have to say…”
All too often, frustrated parents under assault engage in a yelling argument, or just tell their teens to shut up. But communicating that you do care about and want to know what the other person, in this case a teen, is thinking and feeling is crucial to any good relationship.
I have seen over and over in mediations and communication coaching sessions, that people need to be listened to, to believe that their opinions and feelings matter, before they are open to change or negotiating through differences. We have to find a way to listen and respect the perspective of others, including kids. However, parents and professionals who work with teens must not to accept abuse from them, thinking they are fostering good communication or being understanding.
“…But you’ll have to find another way of saying it.”
If we go along with abusive language and behavior from teens, it sends the message that this behavior is acceptable. If we react to abuse by yelling, they learn that this is an effective way to provoke a reaction.
If, however, instead we stay centered and calm, affirm that what they have to say is valued, but that insults do not work, and we can’t have a discussion until they can communicate appropriately, we are finding a balance between setting boundaries and offering a compassionate listening ear. This middle way, while challenging to follow, is much more likely to lead to loving and productive discussions in the future.