One of my main aims when I write blogs or give talks is to try to improve understanding between teens and their parents. When I talk to teens I always try to ensure I spend a little time on sharing what it might be like for their parents to support them through their ups and downs, mood swings, or their changes in appearance. When I speak to parents I feel that it is really important to remind them of the reasons the teenage years can be so turbulent, about the biology of adolescence, and the evolutionary drive to separate from their families emotionally, to develop new identities or friendship groups, all coupled with strong emotions.
So here’s a thought I had about another way to potentially improve understanding between parents and teens but more directly, whilst taking the opportunity to help young people build their communication skills. Perhaps we could take the concept of appraisal from the workplace and make it work at home?
Could we take the opportunity to regularly check in with our teens and ask them how we are doing as a parent, and what we could do differently, whilst gently also feeding back to them what is and isn’t going so well?
Diplomacy to the fore
It would of course need to be handled sensitively and diplomatically. Timing would be everything.
A good time might be if you were both feeling relaxed on a walk, or during a ‘sideways conversation’ when driving somewhere or cooking together. It would be important to explain the aims, and make sure that the first swapping of feedback or thoughts was from teen to parent, to allow them to feel heard and valued.
As parents we would need to tread carefully, and perhaps hold back on our own feedback till another conversation if it felt too much to handle at one time, though if the mood was light enough, and humour was playing a part, then it might be possible to drop in some comments to your teen with a smile.
Start with open questions
As always I would favour open questions and setting the scene by saying that you had been wondering how they felt you were doing as a mum/ dad (“in difficult times” if that helps set the context) and you wondered if there was anything that they thought you were handling well, or what they might like you to approach differently.
You might just get a simple ‘well it would be nice if you didn’t shout so much/ weren’t so grumpy’ or they might be inclined to go into more detail. They might say how great you have been checking in on them in lockdown. Being teens they are unlikely to sugar-coat, but they will also appreciate being asked their opinion and treated with respect. It might also allow you the opportunity to explain why you were so grumpy!
The key is not to rise to the bait but reassure them that you are genuinely interested in their thoughts.
Build on their feedback
Ask them how the behaviours they mention make them feel (“How did you feel when that happened then?”). When they mention the good stuff you do, tell them how nice it is to feel appreciated, and for the more tricky stuff, try to explain your perspective (‘I can see that might have been upsetting- I’m sorry, I was having a bad day because of x’), whilst remembering that adolescence is a time of significant focus on self, and that they are still developing their awareness of others and the impacts of their own behaviours. They may not have considered how you were feeling, so this will help them to learn, if explained gently.
This feedback process will be part of their wider life learning and the development of their character; to be attuned to others, but also how to say positive things and how to frame the less positive when interacting with others.
It’s all about lifelong skills!
Such a 360 appraisal approach may not work for everyone, and certainly every young person may not feel comfortable talking about such topics, but for some it may be a helpful technique for long term development of skills within relationships, learning how to talk to our friends and even future partners.
Building good communication skills starts early and is vital for wellbeing, and it’s important that respect, kindness and thoughtfulness are built in.
Any time that you spend helping your teen to develop these skills will be a wonderful investment in them.