Updated: Aug 19
What Is Your First Response When Your Teenager Presents Their Teenage Problem To You?
Do you know there is a single most potent and powerful response that comes in the form of a question? You as
k this question straight, soon as your teenager approaches you with a teenage problem or teenage trouble.
This question is potent and powerful, for two reason;
Firstly, it clarifies their need.
Secondly, it prevents you from stepping into a place or position of double trouble with your already unhappy teenager.
The question is:
Do you want to just vent or to explore solutions?
Once you have asked this question, wait for the answer. Then you know for sure where and how you are needed if at all. You know where you stand and where your teenager stands.The answer to this question clarifies your position of responsibility and your teenager's position of responsibility.
To ask this simple yet powerful question requires you have a unique confidence and the answer to this one powerful question regarding your teenager’s problems will serve you and your conversation with your teenager because you will know where you stand, and the teenager knows where they stand.
The trouble with most of us parents is that, as soon as we are presented with the teenager's problem, we get in straight away without knowing their intention. The danger with this is that, it is likely not to end up well. You will either end up being accused of not listening or, for providing unwanted and irrelevant answers.
This is why it is important to make this your first question before you proceed. Now, if this has not been your usual practice you might struggle. However,with time and confidence you will become a pro at asking the question Do you want to just vent or to explore solutions?. Shortly, I will explain how beautifully this will serve you.
As for the teenager, if this is the first time they have even been asked this question when they present their teenage problem and before before proceeding to talk about it, they may not know what or how to answer.
If they answer, I don't know, ask them gently to take a moment and think whether what they want is to vent or they are telling you their teenage problem so that the two of you can explore solutions.
Most parents respond to teenagers’ problems by quickly stepping in with advice on how to sort and solve their problem. On the other side we can quickly make a blanket conclusion that the teenage is overreacting, so we tell them off or brush off their teenage problem.
When we jump in and respond to teenagers’ problems with such remarks, it can be frustrating for the teenager because they feel cut short, dismissed,put down, misunderstood and even unimportant.
On the parent’s side, when the teenager's intention is not clarified from the onset, you as the parent may feel impatient, anxious, helpless or angry when your advice is not being appreciated and accepted.
Now let’s get back to the question to ask when confronted with teenager's problems.
The Question; Do You Want To Vent, Or Explore Solutions?
Their answer will either be
I want to vent.
I want to explore solution.
If The Answer Is I want To Vent...
this is how you can effectively respond to your teenager’s problem.
Listen Silently: Full-stop!
This very mere act of listening begins a creative and compassionate connection between you and your teenager. It doesn't matter that you are just listening and nothing else is required, or this will then transfer to the next step where they want to explore solutions, listening whilst they vent their teenager problems is very instrumental.
Just listening silently as they vent - simple but not easy. But as said earlier it is a sign of compassion and care. Parent listening is an important and effective response to teenager’s problem. When we listen to our teenagers’ problems,this communicates to them that we care, are available, accepting and understanding. This is pivotal to our parent teenager relationship.
When teenagers feel that we care, we are available, accepting and understanding them, their level of trust in us increases and they are more likely to confide and confess to us the troubles and/or desires of their hearts. On the contrary,If we don’t listen, they are likely to look to peers and outside stimuli for this emotional connection.
Recently, I worked with a mother of a 15-year-old girl. She said her daughter (Jenny* not her real name) was mostly and constantly angry. She complained that her daughter was moody most of the time, distant and uncooperative. Interestingly, Jenny was doing very well in school and her after school clubs. But according to her mum, Jenny was intolerable; excessively aggressive and stroppy at home. She would either shut up and shut down completely or get overly aggressive if addressed in any way. Mum said she had come to a point where she was afraid of Jenny and that's why she was seeking for help.
I explained that this shutting up and clamming or getting aggressive was a common response with many teenagers. I explained to the mum what was happening to the teenager’s brain that causes them to behave in such erratic, irritable and impulsive ways.
I discussed with mum her own responses when her daughter Jenny behaves like this. Understanding the teenager’s brain and therefore their behaviour is very import for parents so they can alter how they respond towards their teenagers. From our conversation with Jenny's mum, I had absolutely no doubt that she loved Jenny but it was evident there were ways in which she responded that intensified the problem with her teenage daughter.
I recommended listening without reservations. Not asking any questions and if she felt compelled to ask, to make sure that these were clarifying questions to determine she had heard Jenny right. These questions if any had to be after Jenny had granted her permission to ask.
Over the next few weeks Jenny’s mum told me that following several occasions when she practiced listening silently without reservation, Jenny had finally revealed to her that she was feeling singled out by some girls in school. Jenny told her mum that when she tried speaking to her before, mum was quick to answer, always asked her not to worry and that this was not a big deal but a passing thing which happens all the time with girls.
Finally, in our conversation with Jenny’s mum, she realised that Jenny must have felt dismissed and not listened to and that’s why she never shared anymore with her mum. Jenny was frustrated because these school friendships are important to her, but her mum had told her not to worry about it and Jenny must have taken this to mean “it is not important”. This must have made Jenny feel frustrated, resentful, powerless and helpless.
By dismissing the troubles her daughter was having, and asking her daughter to do the same, mum may have thought that she was being helpful. The truth is, this made Jenny feel emotionally neglected, dismissed and invalidated hence the reactions of clamming and aggression. Connection between Jenny and mum had been lost..
It is important for parents to be available and present in the correct way. What do I mean?
When parents of teenagers truly listen, a safe atmosphere is created, and teenagers can express their feelings; these may either be problems or dreams. Listening is crucial because it creates a long-lasting trust and connection that anchors the teenager and gives them confidence – a secure attachment that can enable teenagers to move confidently into the world.
If The Answer Is I Want To Explore Solutions...
this is how you can effectively respond to your teenager’s problem.
I Want To Explore Solutions
Now, if your teenager stated that they want to explore solutions, this would also require that you to still listen. The only difference this time is that you are actively listening to the teenager’s problem, and asking clarify questions so as to fully understand the problem with the intent to inform your solution finding and exploration process.
The reason the listening and clarifying process is important is because it allows the teenager to work through their feelings and issue without being rescued or restricted.
Be open minded as you listen and do not be alarmed by what you might hear. They may say things that are against everything you have taught them, but by listening you can identify how to help them navigate through their teenage problem towards safer and healthier solutions.
This is not your opportunity as a parent to feel guilty or shameful about your teenager’s behaviour and thoughts. Remember their thoughts, actions and behaviour are their responsibility. This is also not an opportunity for you to tell your teenager to pull themselves up and get on with it. This kind of response doesn’t help with building the connection and showing compassion, neither is it instrumental in empowering them to manage feelings. Although it has its place later in life once you are certain they have mastered managing their emotions and can now deal with later teenage problems on their own.
As they begin to share their teenager problem, validate them and their feelings. Whether what they say is making sense or not, validate them. Remember their feelings are real. The story may not be real, but their feelings are real.
You could say something like; you must be feeling bad/sad about… mention the teenager problem they have presented.
You could also say a statement like; I believe there are always ways things can be sorted out. This is a positive and promising sentence; it’s reassuring without saying that you will definitely sort the situation out.
Stay empathetic about their situation and feelings. Ask the question;.
What do you think would work best for you?
Whatever you do, don’t turn this into a lecture and a barrage of what to do. Doing this would rob the teenager the opportunity to solve their own teenage problem.Remember you and your teenager don’t have to come up with a solution straight away
You can mull over it and revisit it later.
Sometimes there is no solution at all to be found and this teenage problem will just disappear and diffuse by itself.
As you carry on actively listening to your teenager's problem, try and put yourself in their shoes but, at the same time let them know that you may not fully understand as only they know the real magnitude of their problem, because it is their own teenage problem
You can ask a question such as this; Would you like me to tell you what I would do in your position?
This process of actively listening and asking clarifying and answers, demonstrates and models to them the problem solving process which they can later use on their own to solve their own teenage problems.
After you are sure or they have told you everything and you have asked all the clarifying questions, ask you teenager what possible solutions they have thought about or could come up with. Suggest some and then together put the best suggestions forward and explore the consequences of each solution.
Finally allow the teenager to choose the best solution for their own teenage problem. This way they are taking full responsibility for choosing and they are unlikely to come back to you with accusations such as "it was you that chose or made me do this or that".
After being given the opportunity to explore solutions with them, remember to thank your teenager for trusting you enough to share their problem and allowing you to be part of the solution. This will increase the chances they will involve you next time even if not as in depth as this time.
You might be thinking I honestly haven’t got the time to do this every time they come to me with a teenage problem.
I totally understand that circumstances may not always be conducive for these type of lengthy listening and problem solving sessions. The time and location may not be right and also their emotions may be high. All these factors can make it inappropriate for you to listen and address the teenager's problem.
What can do if you feel this isn’t the right time or place?
Genuinely show concern and interest,
Then explain it is best to address this at another time and place.
Give them reasons why you can't address this here and now.
Make sure to revisit it, keep your word.
When faced with a teenager's problem, the first and foremost question to ask is if their intent is to vent or explore solutions.
If their answer is "to vent" for their teenage problem, listen quietly
If their answer is "explore solutions", listen actively, ask clarifying questions, ask for solutions and suggest some.
Remember to validate their feelings.
Be open minded and real. Bear in mind your teenager is an independent young person therefore they may not be conforming to the image you have of them.
All through, allow the teenager to work through their feelings and teenage problem without being rescued. By avoiding the temptation to rescue, you help them gain emotional strength and intelligence which is one effective way of preparing our teenagers for an independent and full life. This process allows them to address their teenage problem and process their emotional troubles instead of running away from them.
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