Parenting a Teen – 4 Ways Empathy Makes a Difference
Growing up is a lot of work!
During each stage of development, kids experience something new physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and intellectually. When teenagers begin to make irrational, emotional decisions, parents tend to lose patience and panic. This lends itself to a cycle of parent-teen conflicts at a very critical time in their teen’s life.
One of the most important tools parents need to have to help their teens (and themselves) thrive through the turmoil is a strong sense of empathy.
As teens approach puberty, it’s easy to see the changes unfolding in their body physically but not so in their brain. The emotional center of their brain is more developed than the decision-making part of the brain. This puts their emotions on overdrive and logic in the back seat! Here are a few tips to help you stay focused on what’s important during this time.
Maintain the parent-teen relationship – fight for their heart
While you’re confused and angry about your teen’s behavior, your teen is breaking away from you. You might get the impression that your teen doesn’t need you. Not true! In a rapidly changing world, despite of how your teen behaves, he or she longs for parental stability, safety, and belonging. When you’re in the middle of a conflict and emotions are running high, put your empathy hat on. Keep your cool, ask reflective questions, and actively listen. Give them time to cool down. This changes their brain chemistry. Repeat what you heard them say. Make them feel understood. Add humor to your conversations and don’t forget to just have fun. If you want to share a different perceptive and be heard, do it later! You might have to wait a day or two but that’s okay.
Do everything it takes to fight for your teen’s heart and maintain your relationship.
Help your teen stay healthy – body and mind
None of us want to recall how awkward teen years can be. You can develop empathy for your teen by recalling how difficult those years were for you. Over the years, I’ve helped many teens deal with anxiety brought on by surges of change. My goal is to help them identify triggers and regulate their response to them. This reduces the number of chemicals released into the brain from the anxiety. One of the most overlooked aspects of brain chemistry is its need to be watered, fed, emptied, and exercised.
Our ability to think clearly and be creative, alert, and logical is directly impacted by water, food, and sleep intake.
Additionally, exercising during ‘hormone surge years’ can help teens respond less emotionally. Buy your teen a journal and encourage them to dump all their thoughts on paper. This will allow them to sleep more peacefully and respond to situations less emotionally.
Plan risk-taking adventures with your teen – and engage
As they start to develop their own value system, teens begin to think out of the box. They take risks to tangibly discover if what they have been taught about life is true. Risk behaviors make us feel good because our brain releases adrenaline and dopamine.
Here is another opportunity for parents to put on their empathy hat – provide safe risk-taking opportunities and engage with them in the process. This helps your teen discover healthy ways to experience what their brain is craving while avoiding tragic consequences.
Avoid lecturing your teen on the consequences of poor choices. Instead research and share real, poor risk behavior stories to help them think through the consequences.
Parenting a teen requires help – ask for it
While all this change is going on, your teen is expected to make one of the most critical decisions of his or her life. Making college and career choices with their emotional, rather than their logical part of their brain can have negative, life-long consequences. I’ve found that often students make career choices based on a glamorized, rather than a realistic perceptive of that career. Recently one of my clients wanted to become a nurse, though she did not have the aptitude to become one, simply because she wanted to wear scrubs! Some students decide to attend a college based on where their closest friends or significant others are attending.
The simple truth is students need help to avoid making emotional decisions.
The best way to preserve your relationship with them is by asking friends, teachers, and counselors who can empathize with your teen to step in and help them launch into adulthood and all the decisions that come with it.
A great time to start developing empathy and adding it to your parenting tool-kit is now. Helping your teenager in these four ways can make an immeasurable difference. Keep going parents – you can do it!
Kal has spent the last thirty years working with teens developing empathy, good listening, and communication skills to help them navigate college and life decisions. Contact us today to find out how we can help.