Ep 90: What's Your Teen Thinking?

Ep 90: What's Your Teen Thinking?

Update: 2020-06-14


Click for full show notes, exercises, and parenting scripts from this episode 
Sometimes, talking to your teen feels like arguing with a brick wall. You want to help them, but they’re not listening, they’re angry  with you, and worse: they just shrugged and said, “whatever.” 
And it’s hard not to feel disrespected in these tough situations. As the adult, you want to regain control and set them straight, but if every teen listened when their parents demanded respect, well: we certainly wouldn’t be here today! 
These inevitable conflicts often arise from two equally strong forces: a teen’s desire to create their own identity, and their desperation for approval-- yours and their peers’.  Whether it be obsessively fixating on social media, tagging along on a risky event due to FOMO (fear of missing out) or engaging with mature content, teens are trying to foster independence and belonging, even when it leaves us scratching our heads. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what their motives are, and it’d sure be a whole lot easier if we knew just what they were thinking. 
But because we’ll probably never truly know, and spying doesn’t exactly foster a healthy parent/teen relationships, parents must remember that their job is not to be their teen’s life coach: it’s to empower them to healthily navigate their independence. And that means controlling our impulses, hosting neutral spaces for communication, and above all, trusting our teens: something journalist, author, and this week’s guest, Tanith Carey, champions in her book What’s My Teenager Thinking?: Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents. Between bullying, vaping, lying, boredom, and more, Tanith covers strategies for managing and responding to these tough situations. 
When I asked her about a parent’s role in alleged bullying, Tanith believes that parents are most helpful when they listen. In the flurry of emotion and bustle of just getting home, teens usually don’t want you to rattle off a litany of strategies for overcoming the conflict: they just want to be heard. And after they’ve been listened to and are ready for solutions moving forward, put the power back in their hands: guide them to consider solutions. While parents have great wisdom and advice worth sharing, your teen--more than anyone--will know how certain strategies will play out. So engage them in self-questioning: this sounds like: “What if I wasn’t afraid of them?” “In what ways are they stopping me from doing what I want?” “How can I best mediate this?” By engaging the teen in self-questioning, Tanith notes, your teen will most likely determine a viable solution sooner. And they’ll also feel less victimized too. 
While alleged bullying is a lot trickier to navigate than a teen’s boredom, boredom is still a tough situation worth looking into. Tanith noted that this generation’s desire to be oversaturated with stimulation often leads them to craving productivity/engagement 24/7. And when that’s lost--even for a moment-- teens feel bored. Sometimes this tendency can lead to problematic behavior such as premature or excessive drugs/alcohol, but oftentimes it creates unutilized space for you to connect with your teen. “There’s nothing wrong with being bored!” Tanith argues, and instead of pushing them to find something else to engage with, teach them to view these moments as useful pauses--not failures or shortcomings. Share the space with them: ask them questions and connect with them here. Not only will they no longer be bored, but they can feel closer to you. 
These moments of connection can especially help when navigating the even tougher situations, like finding out that they’ve viewed mature content. And you want to scold them--who wouldn’t? Still, Tanith argued that scolding the teen here negates a pivotal opportunity to guide them. 
In Tanith’s research, mature content can significantly affect a teen. The brain can be scarred, and content could linger in the teen’s mind for up to 6 months. Instead of coming unhinged and imposing consequences, try to foster an open dialogue: one where they feel at ease and not intently criticized. This is because Tanith believes that that’s the most defining part of a parent/teen relationship: the degree to which the teen feels criticized. Yes: you may wish they never stumbled upon/searched this content. And yes: the level of investment the teen made in this content may change your response. But regardless, it’s important to contain your impulses and help them reestablish trust because the urge to chastise them here will do more harm than good. At the end of the day, we can’t control what our teens see (and excessively trying to will not reap many benefits either).
And then I asked about the infamous “whatever.” You tried to be reasonable and impose some sort of order and they hit you with this passive-aggressive exasperation. Tanith agrees that yes-- this is disrespectful, but instead of firing back, get curious! Maybe not in the moment, though. After taking a step back, Tanith believes parents can better understand their teen’s “whatever” by reopening communication channels. This means helping them name the problem and troubleshooting from there. More than anything, Tanith urges parents to step away when they feel triggered. Because the more authoritarian they are, the more passive aggression they’ll be met with. 
Another important topic we covered was the vaping craze. Many teens today see it as a fun, safe, rebellious activity that bridges social circles and helps build their independence. Tanith exposed the irony and humor in this: the same demographic teens often rebel against (us;  adults; authority) are the same ones marketing vape products to them! And yes: science tells us that vaping is quite damaging health-wise, and it’d be safer if teens simply said “no.” Still, Tanith cautioned against holding unrealistically high expectations for teens. Because the truth is, if you hold true to them, you’re going to be disappointed. What’s truly unrealistic is believing they’ll never engage in such risky behaviors. 
One more interesting topic Tanith and I covered was the gap year: is it a cop out or not? Because Tanith is from the U.K., she noted that gap years are far more normalized there; teens who take it grow in maturity and confidence so by the time they do reach college, they are better adjusted. But in the U.S., though, many parents think it’s a reason to stall. What’s more normalized in the U.S. is getting a college education straight after college. Putting your teen into a box either way is quite damaging, though. Tanith believes parents should put their biases down and acknowledge either route, or an alternative all together. 
In addition to handling these tough situations, Tanith and I cover: 

  • Social media and why you shouldn’t request to follow your teen

  • Youth activism and constructively viewing media 

  • Lying: is it the ultimate crime? 

  • Why the stigma around gap years in the U.S. should be tossed out 

Tanith Carey’s insights make facing these difficult times less stressful. Having a defiant teenager is more or less inevitable, but you have more control over the conflicts than you think. Excited to share this light-hearted podcast with our listeners!









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Ep 90: What's Your Teen Thinking?

Ep 90: What's Your Teen Thinking?