Tips for talking to your teen

Dear Dr. Mike

We have a 13 year-old son. No matter what we talk to him about he tells us we are yelling at him. He came home with a progress report from school--he had an F in Study Hall! This is from a child that can get A's and B's just by sitting in class. He told us that he feels we want more from him than he can give. I am lost. I have always told him to do the best that he can, but I know he is slacking off. Any ideas?

Dr. Mike Responds

Let s start by examining the second sentence of this question: "No matter what we talk to him about he tells us we are yelling at him." I am sure many parents can relate to this sentence, which has a couple of possible meanings.

  1. No matter what you say to him he is going to disagree and get angry because he has to create some space between you and him. As he is becoming an adolescent he is feeling too close to you and has to separate himself somehow. As he does not know a positive way to do this he is taking the negative path--disagreeing with you on everything, pointing out your poor parenting skills, and doing poorly in the areas that he sees as important to you--academics in this case.

    OR

  2. Your communications with your son have become dominated by accountability, anger, disappointment, and frustration. In which case everything you say to him is critical or is a prelude to criticism.

If the first explanation is the case then the first thing to understand is that there is probably nothing that you can say that will not sound like yelling to your son. That is, he needs to perceive your communications as yelling in order to make the space to re-think some of the things he has previously accepted as important in his life. This includes things like schoolwork, behavior, and goals. In short, you need to try not to take his rejections so personally.

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