Saturday, September 19, 2009

Loving My Teen

      I was only 20 when I discovered I was pregnant with my son.  I know it was young, but now that he is 16 years old I understand why I was blessed at an early age.  You need to be a strong, quick witted, clever mother in order to get them to adulthood.   No one tells you that eventually you will be arguing with an irrational and simple minded human.  They say, "Love them, that's all they need".  Blah! So not true.  I have discovered that you need so much more than love.
         First, you have to accept one thing about teenagers: to love a teenager is to love the unlovable.  Oh, I know what you are thinking.  It does sound harsh. I completely agree with you.  But what I have discovered is that when I embrace this truth about my son, I can understand why he does what he does, and it has nothing to do with me.  Which brings me to the second thing I have discovered.
         Second, I must keep his junk out of my “yard”.  We all have our own lives, what I like to call "The Yard".  Teenagers tend to think that we don't have a life.  For a time, my son didn't recognize my yard because there were no boundaries.  He didn't know where my yard ended and his started.  So I had to learn to put up fences.  Notice I said fences and not walls.  I can look threw my fence and my fence has a gate, walls don't.  Being a parent means you have to know what is going on in your teens yard and sometimes you have to jump the fence, but for the most part you can knock on the gate and holler over top.  The hardest thing to do is getting them to respect your fences.  In many cases both parents and teens have trouble with this.  It takes practice and patients.
         Having a strong fence is important.  In order to build a fence you need the right tools for putting one together.  It’s simple, when talking to your teen always use the words:  1) “it seems like”, 2) “it looks like”, 3) “it sounds like”.  These simple phrases will help get started.  
         One of the biggest mistakes parents make is using the phrase “it feels like”.  Never tell a teen or anyone that their actions or words are making you feel anything.  The only person who can make you feel anything is yourself, you control your feeling.  By telling someone how he or she makes you feel you give them control over you.  You can have feelings about words, places, things, etc... , another person cannot make you feel.   Feelings are subjective experiences of emotion.  Emotions are a mental and physiological state derived from subjective experiences or experiences from an individual point of view.  Therefore no one can make you feel anything just like they can't tell you what to think.   It is our own perceptions that initiate our feelings.  
         Now that we have that clear you can start utilizing “it seems like”, “it looks like” or “it sounds like”.  When you use these as your reply then all you are doing is conveying back to them what you see or how you are interpreting their words and actions. “It sounds like you are upset with the way things turned out” or “It looks like you are angry about loosing your soccer game.” You are basically expressing your interpretation of their actions or words.  You are giving it back to them to deal with.  They will either own it or not. In either case you have thrown their junk back in their own yard.  They are responsible for what they are trying to express.  How they decide to it is their choice.  They may choose another method if the message being relayed is not interpreted the way they intend it to be.  This is a great way to build communication skills.  
         For example, the first time I tried this I was blown away with how effective it was.  My son came home from football practice in a foul mood.  He was rude to his little sister and this bothered her so much she went to her room and started crying.  When I confronted my son I didn't yell or ask him why he yelled at her.  I simply said to him "It looks like you are upset about something.  Your sister is in her room crying.  Do you know what she is upset about? "  His reply was completely unexpected. His said "I had a bad day at practice and took it out on her.  I will talk to her and apologize for yelling."  I walked away with a smile on my face.  He just acknowledged he did something wrong, and that he let his bad mood effect his little sister. 
         I love my son, and I want to make sure that our relationship is healthy and strong.  I want to help him grow and this method has been a great tool.  I have seen a change in how he talks to me.  He has started using the phrases with me.  I can only hope this means he has gained some understanding about his feelings and is taking ownership of how they effect his actions.  It does take so much more then love to raise a child.  

Note: 1) The ideas mentioned are my interpretations. They have come from numerous meetings with a therapist I choose to talk to when I thought I was failing as a mother.  What I discovered was I had the tools but wasn’t really taught how to use them.  We can only fail as parents when we choose not to seek help.   Change yourself and the people around you have no choice but to change. 
2) Thank you Chrissy for the editing.