Parenting During COVID: How Do We Know How They Are Really Doing?
Julie Baron, LCSW-C ~Therapist and Mom of 2 Teens
For Parents, Seeking Feedback from Your Teens is Essential and Tricky
I often hear from parents that their number one parenting question is, “How do I even get them to talk to me?” So How do we seek feedback effectively? We as parents have to understand that our teens may feel hesitant to share things with us, and they have their reasons. The strategies outlined in the recent blog for professionals working with teens are all adaptable for parents "Working Effectively With Teens During COVID: Using FEEDBACK" . Plus, parents have the advantage and disadvantage of having in person access to our kids. Before using the feedback strategies, our teens actually have to be willing to communicate with us. Here are some tips to get your teens to share more:
Find Out Why They Won’t Talk. Every behavior (or lack of behavior) has a function. There is a reason why teens don’t want to share with parents. Try to find out their reason(s) without challenging, defending, or making promises to change. Some reasons why teens don’t want to share things with us are (but not limited to): the worry of being dismissed or judged, that their opinion will be challenged and elicit an argument, or that the information will later be used against them (“well you lied to me about doing your homework before”), and others. Eliciting worry or anxiety in parents can lead to unpleasant behaviors for teens, such as parents' nagging or feeling guilt for worrying their parents.
Be creative with different ways to reach out to them; during car rides, family meals, checking in before bedtime, tuning in to facial expressions or body language or other expressions of emotions and inquiring with curiosity. Texting can also be a useful feedback tool.
Communicate Patience. With your words and deeds. Parenting is a long game. The first time you ask for input, opinions, perspectives, thoughts or feelings, your teen may be unwilling to share or shrug their shoulders. Accept that your teen may decline your request for their feedback. Offering feedback is most effective when it is seen as a choice rather than a demand. Let them know how it would be useful for you to understand their experience, that you would be willing to figure out a way forward with their input, and are open to integrating their ideas in whatever the end goal. If they believe you are tied to a specific outcome and their words won’t matter, why would they risk sharing? Give them time to walk away and think and check back later. If still nothing, thank them for listening and try to shape the behavior over time. Once your teen is ready and willing to talk with you, let them know you are interested in how they are doing and will be checking in from time to time.
Be Willing to Hear and Adjust. Once your teen has expressed to you, listen, validate (this does suck!) and ask or make suggestions on ways you can support them. If you are willing to hear feedback, then be willing to use the feedback to make your own adjustments in behavior. Teens need to trust that their input will be valued and utilized in order to openly express. This is hard and requires lots of urge resisting skills. We parents have lots of urges to control, intervene, and maneuver toward our desired outcomes. Feedback occurs in trusted relationships. Parents have to prove trust to teens as much as teens must prove they are trustworthy to parents.