Author: Loralea Allen
How do I communicate with my adolescent child if they have been possessed by aliens?
As a clinical mental health counselor, who specializes in treating adolescents, it is not uncommon for parents to seek advice on how to deal with their adolescent child. They swear they don’t understand them and that they have contemplated contacting a priest to conduct an exorcism versus scheduling an appointment with a counselor.
Let me start by saying, I LOVE working with adolescents. I often wonder if it is because I feel as if I have never grown up my self at times. Even though the age on the calendar says otherwise, I feel like I am often stuck in my adolescent mindset. I was a very rebellious teenager. You name it, I probably did it. Because of this, I feel like I “get” the majority of my adolescent clients. However, I am also a parent and recognize the need to be just that. A parent.
How can I parent my adolescent without being their BFF?
It is a misconception that you need to be your child’s best friend in order to “get” them and relate to them. THIS IS NOT TRUE. (Yes, I just used ALL CAPS.) It is possible to understand and relate to them, but also be a parent who provides both guidance and discipline. In fact, children and adolescents thrive from discipline. (Please note, there is a distinct difference in discipline styles and I am not recommending authoritative discipline. Big difference.)
Discipline and guidance reminds our child that we are there for them. The fact that there are rules and responsibilities in place allows them to feel as if they are cared for, while also allowing them to have a sense of purpose. Believe it or not I have heard my adolescent clients state, “I know that my parents care because of the rules they have set for me.” Of course, they will never admit this to you, but they will admit it to the outside world.
So tell me already, how do I relate to my adolescent!?
The one common theme that was taught to me during grad school was to “meet the client where they are.” This is the most important key to relating to adolescents. Even if it is your own child. It is possible to express empathy to them, while not being their best friend. Empathy, the ability to understand someone’s feelings. (I think we all need an occasional reminder of what empathy actually means.) I do not recommend that you say to them, “I know how you feel.” Remember, your adolescent has been possessed by aliens, therefore they think they are the one and only in this world. Empathy requires someone to just “sit” with the feeling that the other may be feeling, not try to take it on.
Another recommendation (and this is a tough one) relate to them as an adult. Not as a parent. (THIS SOMEWHAT GOES AGAINST MY ADVICE OF NOT BEING THEIR BEST FRIEND, BUT BE PATIENT AND CONTINUE READING.) There are 3 different communication styles that we tend to lean towards. We tend to take an Adult Tone, a Parent Tone or a Child Tone. I hope that you can envision the difference. How many times can you think of an occasion you said something to your spouse or co-worker using a Parent Tone? “Honey did you do the dishes yet?” (Insert finger pointing and I am sure you can hear the Parent Tone.) And if your spouse responds, “All you do is nag-nag-nag!” while they are stomping out of the room, you can envision the Child Tone. With that example in place I hope you can start to understand how to communicate with your adolescent in an Adult-to-Adult tone.
Here is a key to success tip….the adolescent child has to remember…if you want to be treated like an adult (which they all believe that they are an adult), you have to act like an adult. So sit down with your adolescent child and have a family meeting. Inform them that you want things to improve between you and them and that means changes from both parties. Inform them that you want to relate to them as an adult but that requires them to act like an adult. Adults take ownership of their actions.
I hope this provides a distinction between being an adult-like parent versus being their best friend. Remember, your adolescent has only been temporarily possessed by aliens. They do grow out of this scary phase and become a somewhat normal adult. This will be a glorious day! So be a role model of the adult you want them to become.
Loralea Allen M.Ed., LPCC-S
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