In my last blog, I talked about the three root issues that I believe are causing most of the challenges that teenagers are facing today. The purpose of the blog was to give parents, teachers, and anyone involved in the lives of teens a sneak peak under the hood.
I believe that understanding perspective is the key to dissolving all conflict and creating a more conscious, supportive, and loving relationship with anyone in our lives. When we practice truly understanding another person, we are able to respond with a lot more compassion and empathy. When we interact from compassion and empathy, truly meaningful relationships are created!
The purpose of this particular piece is to provide parents, teachers, or any adults who have teenagers in their lives with a few tools and strategies that helped me significantly transform my relationship with my father and that, hopefully, will help you create a more conscious and supportive relationship as well.
1. Listen to Understand, NOT to Respond
Most people on this planet have the desire to be understood. I believe that this desire is at its peak in your teenage years. A big component of being understood is feeling like you are heard, and, unfortunately, the majority of people on this planet listen to respond instead of to understand.
Listening to respond is something that the majority of human beings practice on a daily basis. We selectively listen to what the other person is saying, trying to pick out key words or phrases, so we can feel comfortable enough to formulate a response. We even interrupt the flow of the person’s sharing by asking questions, so we can ease our own discomfort of not being able to respond when they are done sharing. The more active our minds are during this process, the harder it becomes to understand the other person.
On the other hand, listening to understand is the practice of being fully present with the other person when they are talking/sharing with you. It involves turning off the voice in your head, holding your questions until the person has finished talking, and letting go of the desire to have to respond. Most teenagers just want to vent and feel like their voice has been heard. By practicing more conscious listening—with the intent to understand who is speaking to you—you hold a safe and comfortable space for that person to share more freely and openly. Try to keep your judgments and snarky responses in check—the more safe and understood they feel, the more they will share.
2. Share your Experiences
One of the greatest ways to fast track to a more conscious, open, and supportive relationship with a teenager is to share your own personal experiences and stories. Teenagers need to feel like they can relate to you, and, unfortunately, if there is a big age gap, they immediately assume that you don’t remember what it was like to be their age. That is one of the biggest advantages that I have when I work with teens through my organization (Youth Wellness Network): I am close enough to their age that there is an instant relate-ability. The best way to overcome the age/generation gap is to openly share your own experiences from when you were their age. However, the most important thing is your intention behind sharing. Remember: freedom and independence are the top two values for most teens, so try not to push your fears onto them through your stories, or it will have an adverse effect.
3. Create Boundaries, NOT Limitations
A lot of people ask me how to find a balance between giving teens the freedom they long for and protecting them from experiencing potential harm or danger. Unfortunately, there is no formula that works in every situation, but one thing my dad did with me that was quite effective was creating boundaries instead of limitations. There is a difference between telling someone what they can and cannot do versus stating your expectations, creating consequences if they are not met, and allowing them to make the choice for themselves. A teenager needs to feel the freedom of making their own choices.
This can definitely be difficult at times when it comes to parenting, teaching, or working with a teenager in any capacity. Laying down the law is a form of taking away their freedom of choice, so, in most cases, creates rebellion. Instead, try clearly stating your expectations, communicating what the consequences will be if the expectations are not met—share your own experiences that allow them to understand your expectations—and let them choose what to do. Ultimately, this is the only way they are going to learn the power of their own choices. Sometimes, they need to choose the hard way to learn the most valuable lessons. No matter what you do, you can’t prevent them from doing so. At least this way you can maintain a better relationship with them, as they will blame you less often and begin to take some personal responsibility for their actions.
4. Do as I Do, NOT as I Say
One of the most important ways to build a more conscious, supportive, and long-lasting relationship with a teenager is to walk your talk. The days of “do as I say, not as I do” are over. Teenagers emulate your actions far more than they emulate your words. They see through what you say, and if you don’t back it up with your actions, they will not only stop listening but stop trusting you as well. Trust is an essential component of building a relationship with a teenager. If you want them to make specific changes in their lives, start by living those changes in yours. Actions speak louder than words, and you will have much more credibility when it comes to interacting with them. The more that you do what you say, the more they will begin to respect you and relate to you. If you want to empower anyone else in your life, you need to start living the most empowered version of yourself first!
As you begin to put these tips into practice, you will create the foundation for building a relationship based on empowerment and mutual respect and admiration. I can speak from experience, having transformed my relationship with my father in my early 20’s, that if he had put these strategies into practice while I was still a teenager, our relationship would have been completely different growing up.
Let me know your thoughts, feedback, and questions in the comments below.
Michael Eisen is an inspirational speaker, author, and the founder of the Youth Wellness Network, an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering youth across the globe to live happier and more positive lives. After positively transforming his own life at the age of nineteen, he is now on a lifelong crusade to share with other young people the principles, strategies, and practices that gave him the strength to start living a more joyful and healthier life. Michael’s first book, Empowered YOUth: A Father and Son’s Journey to Conscious Living, co-authored with his father Jeffrey Eisen, will be released fall of 2012 with Hay House. If you are looking for some summer inspiration, Michael will be running a four-week program in July on Living The Empowered YOU. To learn more about Michael and the Youth Wellness Network, visit www.youthwellnessnetwork.ca.
*Photo by Sh4rp_i.