Effective Ways to Counsel Adolescents
As parents, we often take on the role of counselor as we engage in conversations with our growing children—with tween-aged children in particular. These adolescent years can be full of ups and downs… with puberty and peer pressures surfacing. Add in the fascination and usage of electronic gadgets and social media where messages are a constant front-and-center, and the road is even trickier. But navigating them down this road is as challenging as it is gratifying. Through parenting experience and research we can share the following four ideas as effective ways to counsel adolescents.
Not all arguing is bad.
Believe it or not, when a child argues with us, it can be a good thing. While some arguments can be a relentless stream of begging and pleading with little reasoning or listening (on their part or ours), some arguments are truly worth engaging in. Arguing is a vital part of growing up—it’s a child expressing their independence and developmental separation from parents. By arguing, a child is showing that he (or she) is thoughtful and passionate about what’s concerning him and that he is developing into his own person. The right kinds of arguments teach children to be good listeners, develop reasoning skills and learn to compromise. These are vital skills you want children to develop as peer pressures make their way onto the scene. And while the parents may have the ultimate say in the matter, appreciate the fact that the child may have put some thoughtful effort into getting something they want.
Judging is bad.
As parents, it can be difficult not to judge the undesirable actions of our children, our children’s friends, even our children’s friends’ parents. Judging is practically human nature. Adults can be worse about it than teenagers! But it’s just not nice. And adolescents (especially teenagers), can pretty easily sense when we are judging them—i.e., looking, talking and thinking critically about them. Likewise, they can tell when they are given our respect. If a child has come to us for help, making unnecessary snap judgments about him and/or what he is sharing won’t help the child at all. In fact, it will probably lead him or her to not come to us in the future. An easy way to avoid making judgments is to practice the saying “think before you speak.” Yes, stop and think about that negative thought before putting it into words. Is there a better way to say what you’re thinking? You may have a strong opinion, but whether it agrees with the child’s or not, using tact and grace can be very effective in providing useful and constructive feedback.
Don’t underestimate the drama.
Ninety-nine percent of the “drama” children experience is related to relationships with their friends and their relationships with each other. It can feel like a never-ending battle coaching our children to stay neutral and be a good friend to everyone. Behind the scenes, parents can get pretty annoyed by the drama but, thankfully, we can often see some positive outcomes of our coaching. When we stop to think about being 12, it’s easy to relate. No, we did not have handheld devices that meant we could stay connected to each other well past the end of the school day, but we can easily recall experiencing tiffs (yes, drama) among our friends at that age. Clashes and differences with others are a part of growing up, whether a child has two friends or 20. So we need to do our best to be sensitive to the drama, stepping in when deemed necessary, and reminding ourselves that even though we’re certain each issue will pass as quickly as it began, they are important to those dealing with them, and shouldn’t be discounted.
The number one thing we can do when our children confide in us is to listen to them. Sure, it can be tempting to butt in midway through their dialogue to share our opinions, but that is exactly what we shouldn’t do when counseling a child. Giving undivided attention and being patient are crucial to being effective. Depending on the situation and what’s being shared, the sheer matter of talking it out is a great first step in finding resolution—and it’s a relief in and of itself.
Our words of wisdom are important and trusted by the child, but this is also a critical time when being sympathetic (or expressing empathy, as the case may be) is meaningful. Expressing that we do understand what the child is going through, or summarizing how they must be feeling, can help him or her continue to confide in and place their trust in us.
Once we’ve listened intently, we can then proceed with asking open-ended questions, such as what they wish had happened, or what they want to happen now. These types of questions help the child sort through a problem and find resolution, without having to endure a drawn-out lecture.
Certainly there are clinical and technical methods for counseling youth and it takes years to develop the best and most effective techniques. The effective ways to counsel adolescents shared here are just the basics, taken from the personal experience of those of us learning the ropes of adolescent parenting.