While teens are tackling their transition to adulthood and trying to figure out their own identity, it’s easy to put themselves at the center of the universe. Trying to juggle tasks such as completing homework on time, balancing a social life, and coping with the pressures of growing up can prompt teens to ask questions such as, “How do I solve this? How does this affect me? What do I do?” When teens get lost in trying to answer these questions, they can feel like the burden is on them because no one knows what they’re going through. So how can communicate with your child when they won’t hear you out?
If you try to help them, they might cite generational differences or the fact that you don’t know their friends or teachers as intimately as they do to write you off. Another reason teens might disregard parental guidance is because they’re trying to advance their independence. Edging out any advice you have to offer isn’t intentional, it’s just part of the process. Fortunately, we’ve got three tips to help you get through to your teen:
- USE AN OUTSIDE SOURCE
Teens can have difficulty discerning how much control they have over the outcome of their own lives. Because parents often operate as decision makers, teenage rebellion is a natural way to reject their help as they begin to figure out the role of personal agency. Even when they’re in need of advice, teens may want to figure problems on their own so they can prove their self-reliance.
It might be a good idea to speak with someone who is close with your teen about conveying the message instead. Your child could be more responsive to someone who they see as an influence but not as someone in control of their life. If your teen has trust in a friend or mentor, they will perceive the information as exemplary, something to mimic as opposed to a rule or command. You can look for mentors in close friends, older siblings, neighbors in the same age range, coaches, teachers, and community leaders.
Another place to look for an alternative informational delivery service is in stories. Often times, if you tell an anecdote, the lesson can be hidden in a nicer package that’s entertaining and memorable. Movies are also a source for teen advice. If you learned any lessons from a movie that are applicable to your teen, you can show them the film so that they can absorb the dynamic unfold for themselves.
- GIVE THEM PROBLEM-SOLVING TOOLS
If your teen is adverse to taking advice and they’re set on figuring out their problems on their own, you can lean into their inclination for independence by showing them how to find solutions themselves. Ironically, you’ll be able to use your teen’s ambitions to become autonomous as a means to get them to look for help.
One particularly underutilized resource is the local library. If your team has access to a community center with books and research papers, they’ll be able to find reliable sources of information on their own. This way, they’re more likely to incorporate the advice they find into their own problem solving because the information resonates with their understanding of the issue at hand.
You can also pass along websites that you trust or online academic sources so your teen won’t feel like they’re being told what to do. Instead, they’ll have resources that they can pursue should they choose to. By giving your child resources instead of giving advice, you’re simultaneously providing problem-solving strategies as well as directing them to the same information you’d like to share.
- GUIDE YOUR TEEN TO THE RIGHT ANSWER
If your teen constantly asks you for advice but doesn’t actually put it to use, it might be a sign that your teen is just asking you to solve their problem instead of finding a way to solve it themselves. This method of asking for help disguises a passive way for children to signal to their parents to come to the rescue. But advice is a direction to go in, not the taxi itself; the steps to working it out, not the final product.
It might be helpful to ask your teen questions about their problems so you can arrive at the solution together. This can help your teen become familiar with the process of looking for solutions internally. Questions such as, “What caused this? What factors are influencing how everyone feels? What steps can you take from here to get to where you want to be?” These prompts provide a way for your teen to practice active problem-solving. When you both work together to think of solutions, they might be able to connect the dots on their own.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.