Ep 232: Solving Conflict and Building Connection
Manage episode 357771236 series 1952577
Rick Hanson, author of Making Great Relationships, shares how we can create more open, positive communication with teens. We discuss why teens are so moody, how parents can become better communicators, and the importance of emotional regulation when teens push our buttons.
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Full show notes
It doesn’t take long for a disagreement with teens to turn into a full-fledged battlefield. One minute, you’re just trying to ask about their day, the next they’re saying they hate you and slamming the door in your face. And no matter how much we resolve to make our interactions calmer and more productive, we seem to get stuck repeating the same drama over and over again.
If we want to break free from this cycle, we have to find new ways to communicate with our kids. This requires us to go past the surface level and dive into how kids are really feeling-and what they really mean when they say “I hate you.”
To help us escape from the cycle of miscommunication, we’re talking to Rick Hanson, author of multiple bestselling books, including the most recent, Making Great Relationships: Simple Practices for Solving Conflicts, Building Connection, and Fostering Love. Rick is a psychologist, Senior Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and the founder of the Global Compassion Coalition and the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.
In our interview, we’re talking about why teens are so harsh in their communication with parents–and what they're really trying to do when they're hurling insults at us. Plus, how parents can be less reactive when kids are pushing our buttons.
The Truth About Teen Angst
Teenagers in TV, movies, and popular culture are often depicted as rude and rebellious–could our media be normalizing teen angst? This cultural conditioning definitely contributes to teens’ attitudes, says Rick. Teens are also generally hardwired to be selfish, he explains, and since their biological development isn’t quite complete, and they’ve still got some empathy left to learn. If you feel like teens are behaving selfishly, it likely isn’t because they’re inherently self-absorbed, it’s teenagers as a whole. It can be helpful to remember that, and not take things too personally, says Rick.
Behind our teen’s anger, they’re usually hurting, says Rick. Being a teen is no easy task, and our kids might be feeling lost or upset without any way to express their feelings. We expect teens to sit through school all day, ignore many of their most tempting pleasurable pastimes, and push them towards far-off careers that they may not even want. All of this combined with bullying, mental health issues, eating disorders, and the perils of social media can be pretty overwhelming, explains Rick. It might be wise to keep all this in mind the next time we think kids are being unreasonably moody, Rick says.
In the episode, Rick explains how we can use empathy and imagination to reach kids instead. By attempting patience and open communication, we can create a more communicative environment where concerts and feelings are talked about in a real way, Rick explains. Intention is important, especially when it comes to interpreting teens behavior. If we assume they’re intending to offend us or bring us down, then we’ll retaliate, and the cycle of negativity continues.
So how can we as parents react more patiently when kids are being difficult? Rick and I discuss how we can improve your communication in the episode.
Creating Better Communication
One way we can foster positive communication with our teens is by embracing vulnerability, says Rick. Sometimes it can be challenging to find the right level of honesty without oversharing or losing our parental authority, but if we want to have open communication, parental vulnerability is key, he explains. If we tell them how their behavior makes us feel, they might start to understand the consequences that their words can have, or become more aware of the fact that you’re not their enemy, says Rick.
Sometimes, we’ve also just got to get to the bottom of what kids need, and find a way to create a compromise with them. When they’re begging us for permission to go to a party where underage drinking and other shenanigans are bound to take place, Rick encourages us to listen and understand what they really want: to fit in, feel popular, and have fun. He suggests that we maybe let them go, so long as they promise to come home at a certain hour, prove that there’s someone to drive them safely to and from, or whatever we feel comfortable with as a parent.
No matter what, being criticized by teens is inevitable, and it's just something parents pretty much have to live with, Rick explains. We can’t control what teens say to us, but we can control how we react, he says. At the end of the day, we might actually feel grateful to teens for their criticism, as it’s a preferable alternative to being totally cut off. In the episode, Rick pulls from his experiences as a family therapist to share why teens end up cutting off parents as they move into adulthood and how we can prevent it from happening in our own families.
When a teen starts to act up or things get heated between the two of you, it’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us and turn us into yelling, screaming authority seekers. If we can learn to redirect our emotions instead, we’ll be better off, says Rick. In the episode, he and I are discussing how we can stay cool, even when our emotions are running hot.
The Value of Emotional Regulation
Rick and I talk in our interview about love vs. aspiration vs. authority, and how much of a role each should play in parenting. Rick believes that love, of course, should be a big part of how we treat kids, while also aspiring for them to improve and become better versions of themselves. Authority, on the other hand, is typically pretty ineffective, he explains. Of course, there are rules and boundaries that need to be set, but when there’s a struggle between you and your teen, trying to squash it with your authority will never quite do the trick. Instead, you’ll just push you and your teen farther apart.
This need for authority is often tied to anger, which is one of the worst ways we can react when teens are pressing us. Rick reminds us how important it is to be in tune with our own feelings and ensure our emotional stability before lashing out a teen. If we take a minute to slow things down and chill out, we might realize that there’s something below the surface of our anger–like concern for our teen’s wellbeing or frustration over lack of communication. If we can then explain our feelings to teens instead of just hurling angry words, there’s a much better chance that issues will be resolved, Rick says.
Sometimes, this includes admitting our own faults, Rick says. If a kid tells us we never listen, what do they really mean? He encourages us to reflect and see where we might be struggling in the listening department, or what about a teen’s criticism might have an element of truth. Admitting fault or at least learning to explain our behavior can be an important way of letting teens know that we care about their feelings and that we want to preserve our relationship with them, Rick says.
In the Episode…
Rick and I cover a lot of ground in this week’s episode! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
- Why we can feel “stuck” in our relationships
- How we can put an end to moralistic shaming
- Why our brains are biased towards negativity
- How we can be less defensive
If you enjoyed this week’s episode, you can find more from Rick on his website, rickhanson.net. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week!