Did you know it’s “National Catch Your Teen Doing Something Right” Month?
By Merrett Sheridan, LMFT
Site Director at Palo Alto High School
Ok so I made that up, but why not? Ask yourself when was the last time you gave your teen a truly heartfelt “atta boy” for something significant and for no reason other than to make them feel good? By significant I don’t mean thanking them for feeding the dog when it was already their job – although if you’re really out of practice then by all means start with anything and practice, practice, practice! But the bigger the compliment and the more unexpected the more impact it will have on your teen and how they feel treated by you. For example, you can compliment them on things you really admire about them or make a point to notice the “upside” of a characteristic you may not care for in them (for ex: they may be stubborn in your opinion but I’m guessing that also means they can be very patient).
Teens can certainly test your patience beyond belief and you may not enjoy them at every turn these days. You may think to yourself, was I this bad at their age? It’s hard to go back and remember the difficulties of being a teen but chances are you too had conflicts with your parents, teachers, or other authority figures at some point. This is a natural stage of development and there is no cure! In fact, it’s a healthy sign if you and your teen can barely see eye to eye on anything. They are growing up and gaining their independence but they don’t necessarily know how to do it with grace, respect, or honor. Wouldn’t that be nice? No, just like when you were an adolescent, they are struggling to become adults without the experience or ensuing wisdom.
Take this as your opportunity to be their parent for perhaps the last time. Soon enough, they will leave and gain the experience and wisdom needed to succeed in life and they will come back, but not as your charges, and the dynamic will change and may no longer allow you such influence and ability to impart change in their lives in such a direct way. So, take the time you have now to find time between the challenges and frustrations, to notice them being their awesome selves……and pounce! Research shows (The Gottman Institute, www.gottman.com) that it takes a 5 to1 ratio of positive to negative comments or acts to build healthy relationships, so the more you can catch your teen doing something right you are making deposits into the relationship bank with your child.
You want to help them navigate this challenging time with love and compassion. One thing you have in common with your teen is the experience of having been one yourself, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to trade places with them now! With this one simple task, and you have all month to try it (of course you can over-achieve and keep it up all year if you want) you have a tool to be the role model they truly need you to be right now; that despite the heartache they may be sending your way, that you still see their strengths, talents and passions and model how to show compassion and caring even as they are pulling away and testing your patience.