Sometimes we dads feel like we toil in the garden of the unknown. We’re not sure how deep to plant the seed, how often to water, how to fertilize, or when to cultivate. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare writes, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” But how do we know our teen and how do we respond?
So many occasions present themselves as our children grow toward adulthood. It could be the lack of effort we see in a high school research paper that still results in an “A.” It might be the choice of a swatch of clothing that might work for a starlet at a nightclub but not for school. It could be a daughter’s undying devotion to “the boyfriend from Hell,” from whom she will not be swayed.
Understand before being understood
“Come on, honey, tell me how you feel. I know it’s hard, but I’ll try to understand.”
“You’d think it was stupid.”
“Of course I wouldn’t! You can tell me. Honey, no one cares for you as much I do. I’m only interested in your welfare. What’s making you so unhappy?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Come on, honey. What is it?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I just don’t like school anymore.”
“What? What do you mean you don’t like school? And after all the sacrifices we’ve made for your education! Education is the foundation of your future. If you’d apply yourself like your older sister does, you’d do better and then you’d like school. Time and time again, we’ve told you to settle down. You’ve got the ability, but you just don’t apply yourself. Try harder. Get a positive attitude about it.”
“Now go ahead. Tell me how you feel.”
Stephen Covey’s fifth habit of highly effective people is, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” He has captured a great example of this struggle between parent and child in the dialogue above. As Shakespeare wrote, “I would my father look’d but with my eyes (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
There are steps that can help you move closer to how your teen sees an issue:
First, listen. Pay attention.
Second, let your teen know you’ve heard him and how he feels.
Third, stand back. Don’t try to fix whatever you see as the problem
Fourth, let her know what you understand. Share some empathy.
Fifth, share your thoughts and reiterate any rules. This can be tricky, but when done with respect and understanding, it can draw you together.
When we take a step back, a space opens up. Your teen sees the attempt you are making, you begin to comprehend her point of view, and you both better appreciate your different perspectives. Is it immediate? No. Is it magical? Hardly. But when you set aside your own viewpoint and your ego, you can make room for some understanding. You may still not agree, but you can envision a little more clearly the other side of the equation.