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How to React When Your Teens Shock You

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I had come home early from work and went straight upstairs to change into something more comfortable. While I was upstairs my son came in with some friends. Not knowing I was home he and his friends began to talk freely and loudly. As I came down the stairs I could hear their conversation more clearly. I’m not going to say specifically what was said, but let’s just say it’s not the type of conversation you ever want to hear from one of your kids.

At some point, as your children are approaching, or in adolescence, they will start pulling away from you and try to become their own person. During this time, they will likely say things you won’t want to hear, and your tendency will be to freak out. Try not to let them shock you! Try this instead:

1. Strive to see and affirm the person your child is becoming.

As our kids formulate their identities, we can (and the kids say should) openly acknowledge that we don’t necessarily understand them. As one teenage girl said to her parents, “I know you’re really trying to understand what I’m going through, but it’s okay that you can’t totally relate. Just acknowledge that times have changed, and give me a hug when I’m stressed.”

Guidance counselor, Nerida Edwards, says parents often tell her, “I feel like I don’t know my child.” Her response? “Well, they change a lot, and you probably don’t. Take them to Waffle House or Starbuck’s for an hour, and leave both your cell phones at home. Do something they will enjoy, and in most cases, they will talk to you if they know you really want to listen.

2. Investigate their new identity.

As simple as it might sound, one of the best ways to assure our child that we do want to understand her new identity is to actually investigate it. To move past your preconceptions, you might even pretend you’re meeting your child for the first time. What would you sense, for example, a previously unrecognized loneliness underneath the vivacious surface of your eighth-grader? What might you learn if you asked, “Do you feel included in this family? At your school?”

3. Express your love.

As you get to know the person your child is becoming, you may notice her hunger for appreciation. As part of her social referencing, she’s wondering, “What do Mom and Dad think of who I’m becoming?” Look for ways to sincerely express your pride in the positive ways she’s growing. As one girl said, “It would mean so much to me if, instead of harping on me for always being on the go, my mom would say, ‘Wow, you’ve really become an amazing, independent person who’s not afraid to try new things.'”

Even when we can’t help but notice their negative behaviors—especially the prickliness and defensiveness that so often accompany our children’s inner confusion about who they are—they still need our encouragement and affection. Even though we sometimes feel that giving it is like hugging a porcupine!

Tell us! How have your kids shocked you? How did you respond?

Shaunti Feldhahn is a bestselling author, popular public speaker, and groundbreaking researcher. This wife and mother now applies her analytical skills to illuminating those important, surprising truths that people really need to understand about each other.


What types of character qualities would you like to have when you are older?

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