In my previous blog, “Adolesence Part 1,” I talked briefly about what adolescence is. In this blog, I will talk about some strategies to consider that may be helpful in interacting with your adolescent through this tumultuous period.
The foundation of everything in regards to the people we care about is our relationship. The Latin word for relationship is necessitudo which means a “necessary state.” Our relationship with our adolescents is a necessary state which sets the stage for all other ventures. On one hand this is obvious, on the other hand, this can be very difficult as we learned in my previous blog, the anecdote “rebellious teenager” does not come from out of nowhere. At times, our attempts to connect with our adolescents can be rebuked.
The relationship expert, John Gottman, says there are 3 main ways in which we interact with each other. He calls them Turning In, Turning Away, and Turning Against. Turning In is responding in a caring manner, for example someone asks, “How are you?”, the other person responds, “I’m good [or however they are feeling]”. Turning Away is being argumentative or combative, so in our example, the response to the question before is not “I’m good [or however they are feeling]”, the response is more of “Why would you want to know?”. And Turning Away is ignoring, so the response to the question would be to ignore and not answer at all.
Obviously, Turning In leads to better relationship outcomes. Turning In can be difficult for parents at times, especially when your adolescent is not Turning In to you which may trigger you respond in kind, leading to a Turning Against – Turning Against dynamic in which both parties are now argumentative or combative. This dynamic does nothing to resolve the situation, so as much as possible, it is helpful if we as adults attempt to stay in a Turning In mindset, despite what we are getting from our adolescents. This also serves to model the type of behavior we want from our adolescents.
This does not mean that we allow or condone all behavior, it just means that we do not get pulled into the downward spiral that these Turning Against – Turning Against dynamics can lead to. If strong emotions are present, you can label those emotions with words to help your adolescent. We do not do this by asking questions but rather saying something to the effect of “You seem mad.” Again, this may garner a rebuke or snarky comment from your adolescent and we do not Turn Against this comment. If nothing else, our not Turning Against will at least not escalate the situation further. And again, we cannot Turn In to everything and when limits need to be set, we should do so as dispassionately as possible. One of the best ways to deal with negativity is to observe it without reaction or judgment.
In one scenario where this non-reactant stance is extremely important, is in the case of your adolescent intentionally pushing your buttons. The key to changing button-pushing behavior is not reinforcing it by acting out on our own buttons being pushed. The psychologist Chris McCurry talks with parents about “responding mindfully” and what he means by that can be distilled down to the sentence: “Respond in a way that when you look back on the situation, you will like who you were in that moment.” Typically this involves not just reacting and responding to your adolescent but stopping, observing what is happening, breathing, and responding intentionally.
So to summarize, the relationship is of utmost importance and sets the foundation for everything else you do as a parent. This could also extend to just being a human being as well but I digress. I found the Turning framework very helpful and useful. It helps me be more intentional in my interactions and sets the stage for how I want to relate to people so when I look back on my interactions, I like who I was in those moments. Something which I will talk more about in my next blog on adolescents.