There are certain nuts and bolts go-to things you can say to your adopted teen that enable them to feel empowered and you to feel more confident as a parent and as an authority figure.
I want to tell you some phrases that have been useful in getting through those rocky times. Sometimes we can know what we’re generally supposed to be doing or saying, but aren’t sure how to actually say it.
1. “That’s definitely an option and you may decide to do that. The downside is…” I advise parents to say this when their teen is considering something that the parent doesn’t agree with, but that isn’t really a safety issue and could provide an important learning experience. It will convey that you respect their perspective, which helps them to feel empowered and, you still get to share your concerns, without getting into a conversation where you end up arguing.
2. “What do you think?” Again, you want your teen to believe that they are smart and have important things to offer. It seems simple, but we so often don’t actually ask our teen what they think. What they think is important, unless it’s a restriction that you’re opposing.
3. “You may be right, but the decision still stands.” Again, you can still set certain limits and guidelines but you’re acknowledging that you respect their opinion, even though it’s not the deciding factor.
A few tips about what to avoid –
1. Trying to convince them that what they’re upset about isn’t as bad as they think. When you teen says, “I’m never going to get through this (whatever “this”) might be, such as school, a tough break-up, a move, etc, we often end up saying something like, “Sweetie, it’s really not that bad.” What they want to hear is not that they’re upset over nothing, but that they’re strong for working their way through it.
2. When you’re trying to reprimand your teen and they say something like, “Who are you to talk, Mom. You don’t have any friends either! Maybe you’re the one with the problem with your social skills, not me.” Many parents respond by saying something like, “We’re not talking about me right now, we’re talking about you.” And, sometimes that is enough, but the alternative is this, “Well, we should both work on it then, because it’s important!”
3. Negotiating. I used to say don’t negotiate with terrorists, now, that hits a little close to home, given what happened with the Boston Marathon, but anyway, it still stands! When your teen expects to get something every time they do anything, it’s time to let your word and your authority speak for itself. When your teen, or child says something like, “What do I get if I do it?” That’s a sign that the negotiating, bargaining and bribing has gotten out of hand.