Dr. Randy L. Cale
Let me begin by emphasizing that this column is not about every adolescent. However, some of you have become quite familiar with the child I am about to describe.
Let's imagine you asked the question, 'How was your day?' It seems innocent. It seems that you are concerned. There was no tone in your voice. There is nothing that you are angry about. Your adolescent appears to be sitting at the table doing nothing. All appears okay.
Yet the response that you get sounds something like this: 'None of your business!' 'Leave me alone!' 'Why do you keep bothering me?' 'What's wrong with you?' 'UUggghhh!' 'Don't bother me!' 'Why are you always asking me questions?' And so forth....
The time of day, the question you ask, the way you ask it -- all don't matter. (Except, in the event that your son or daughter actually needs something, then you get a response that sounds more human.) I call this 'The Adolescent Third Degree Burn.'
Here is my suggestion: Think of these teenagers as walking through the world with a psychological third-degree burn. Imagine that their body is surrounded by a field of energy and the boundaries are hypersensitive to any effort to find out 'What's going on in there?'
What's the advantage of this metaphor? Firstly, it prepares you for the reality of trying to communicate with a child who is going through this stage. Be prepared for the hypersensitivity, the dramatic and negative overreaction.
Secondly, the metaphor implies that there would be great sensitivity to touch or pressure. There can't be an effort to move inside this hypersensitive psychological sphere of energy. It's not that you can't communicate; you can. You just can't probe or inquire or push. If you do, you will get the over-reactive and seemingly inhumane treatment that no parent really deserves.
Thirdly, burns eventually heal, if you stop probing and picking at them. Thus, the metaphor implies that this is not a lifelong condition. When you stop pushing and probing, the burn immediately begins to heal.
Finally, when you cease efforts to probe into your teenager's world, you'll find more opportunities for dialogue and discussion. How? Rather than inquiry, we focus on commentary: Rather than asking about their day, we comment that, 'It's a beautiful day outside.'
Rather than asking who won the game, we comment, 'I heard you guys won by five points.'
Rather than asking about the results of their math quiz, we comment, 'I noticed how hard you studied for your math quiz last night.'
'But won't they think that I don't care?' No! Were your efforts to inquire and find out how things were going really working? Were your kids commenting that they appreciated your inquiries, and they noticed how much you cared?
Repeated inquiries only serve to push your child further away from you. Moreover, you keep investing your energy in your children's resistance, instead of moments of pleasant cooperation and normal dialogue, where your energy and attention would be much more fruitful.
With this new approach, I suggest you pull back. Pulling back is not pulling away. It simply means that you are not probing and inquiring, and you are pulling back from those kinds of verbal exchanges.
You are not pulling your love away. You're not pulling your presence away. You don't become inaccessible or difficult to find. Instead, your love and concern are there waiting -- occasionally commenting, but not probing and inquiring.
You are respectfully noticing the space they seem to be demanding. You are respectfully observing the overly sensitive boundaries they have about their psychological space. As you do so, the respect you communicate will be reciprocated by your children.
As you begin to change your communication strategy, don't expect miracles, however. Simply keep putting information out there in a non-threatening manner, with no effort to probe that psychological boundary. I promise, with consistent efforts, you will see your children beginning to return to a more human life form. You will notice that your kids begin gradually to come to you.
For the next 30 days, just have an image of your teenager walking around in this ball of energy that's reddened and sensitive on the edges. Be cautious not to 'bump into ' those edges and allow for there to be some space and room, and healing can occur.
This approach is focused on how to build rapport and improve the quality of the relationship with your child. It gives you a visual metaphor that allows you to remind yourself to keep pulling back, and allow room to heal. Just pull back, and notice the amazing results.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park-based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. His Web site, www.TerrificParenting.com
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