Parents often tell me that their teens are driving them crazy.
A common theme is that the teen thinks that the parent is stupid and that they don’t (ever) know what they are talking about.
Needless to say, another commonality is that the teen “just doesn’t listen to me.”
Well, if you’ve read some of my posts already, you’re familiar with the term Emotional Credibility.
Emotional Credibility consists of two simple things: trust and likability. When we can trust somebody enough to talk to them about difficult things, we naturally begin to like having them around more.
The problem is that many if not most parents have long ago lost Emotional Credibility (E.C. for short) with their children, who then eventually became those seemingly monstrous teens and ‘tweens.
And by the time this happens, the kid is now older (and in some cases, quite a bit larger), and can now do more damage to themselves and others, as well as to cars, the house, etc.
When and how did the E.C. get lost?
To answer this, we must first take a brief trip back to when the child was really little.
Remember the terrible twos?
Well, you might as well think of them as a preview of the pre-teen and teen years, only the child is smaller and less harmful.
The basic underlying principle is the same for both the toddler and the ‘tween/teen: the child is testing limits and trying to get to know themselves and their surroundings better. Which is messy.
Now we must know that the way you reacted (or overreacted) to that little child when they tried to test these limits by doing crazy things (like putting oatmeal in the VCR– wait, there are no VCRs anymore; I’m getting old!), determines their future image of you and how you handle yourself and your life.
So, if little Billy tried to feed himself but made a big mess and you flipped out or tried to prevent him from feeding himself entirely to prevent the mess, then little Billy’s trust in you took a hit. And so did your general likability in his eyes.
You see, little ones don’t have work or finances to focus on; they don’t have kids of their own (usually) or houses or cars, etc. So they focus on YOU.
They watch you and observe your behavior. In fact, they’re pretty obsessed with observing you and learning what you can and can’t handle (translation: what they can and can’t do or say around you.)
They learn what kind of person you are.
Are you reasonably even-tempered, considerate, slow to reject, punish, shame, or withdraw your love?
Do you Listen, Validate, Ask (open ended) questions, then Comment last (i.e. LVAC Technique)?
Or do you do the opposite? Comment first with some sort of judgment, immediate opinion, declaration, warning, or other some such projection of your anxiety agendas onto the child?
Well, my friends, if I didn’t do these things myself as a parent (you’d think I’d know better given the work I do!), I wouldn’t know so well how to describe them to you.
The Emotional Credibility they feel for you in the earlier years WILL influence how rough their ‘tween and teen years are on you.
Now here’s the good news.
Even if you, like me, had your challenges trying to keep your calm and restraining yourself and using the LVAC Technique when they were younger, now’s your chance to start building up those E.C. points!
Do this: when your ‘tween/teen criticizes you, try to not get defensive right away or feel immediately threatened somehow. Remember, you are (and always will be) their parent and they need you.
Instead, picture yourself as a mountain and them as a smaller mountain that’s trying to grow.
They can’t actually move you or displace you.
Use my LVAC Technique (Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment) to built E.C. and to become a key person in their lives; someone they can come to and talk about anything with without immediate comments, comparisons with yourself or others, judgments, quick “solutions” that you think solve the problem you think you understand, etc.
Try to remember that, more often than not, what they need from you is a stable, steady mountain that Listens to them, that Validates their feelings, and that perhaps Asks them some open ended questions about what they are feeling or trying to say. Save the Comments for last for they represent your reactions and anxieties and they make the conversation about you instead of your child.
Don’t make it about you. Let the child feel whatever they are feeling and let it be between them and the larger world around them that they are trying to explore. Help them and guide them through the storm, don’t turn it around and make it about you by throwing yourself right in the middle of the chaos and fighting with them.
So if you want to rebuild and repair your Emotional Credibility with your ‘tween or teen, you must: 1) realize when and how it was lost, and 2) use LVAC and your power of restraint to build it back up.
Good luck and all the best!
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand a Few Things First)