Giving advice to a teenager is very easy; getting a teenager to take that advice is another matter altogether. It’s not only a case of the advice ‘falling on deaf ears’, sometimes the teenager seems to go deliberately out of their way to do the exact opposite, that’s when you know you’ve got a problem. So how do you go about giving advice to a teen?
The short answer to this question is “don’t”. Now at first glance this probably sounds ridiculous, after all parents have more experience of life and most would agree that a parent’s job is to pass this experience onto their children. But the problem with giving advice is that it’s really just a way of maintaining control. We often cover it up by saying we know what’s best in the situation, we have the experience and knowledge, but in reality what we’re saying is what we want to happen, this is what we want you to do.
Adolescence is a time for learning to self-manage, to take responsibility for yourself and your actions. It’s an essential process if your teen is to become a well-adjusted, fully functioning adult ready for the 21st century. And a fundamental part of the process is handing over control to your teen.
For most parents this is a really scary thought. They’re concerned about what will happen if they do, that if they give up some control it will mean they lose all control. They’re concerned about what their teen will do or what happens if they get it wrong, in other words they feel a need to protect their teen.
Firstly, handing over control at this stage is more about handing over responsibility and accountability on how to do something, not handing over total control. It’s about letting your teen have an involvement in how to solve a particular problem, it’s about teaching them problem solving skills. If you always provide the solution how will they ever learn to do it for themselves?
Secondly, your teen is very likely to get it ‘wrong’, to make mistakes and what is wrong about that? You’re teaching them how to self-correct, just as they did when they first learned to ride a bike and kept falling off. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process; more learning comes from making mistakes than comes from getting it ‘right’. How much does it really matter if they don’t get it ‘right’ first time or choose the ‘best’ alternative?
Finally, is your solution the ‘best’? It’s easy to forget that our children are different to us when thinking about a solution to a problem. The solution may be the best one for you, but is it the best one for your teen?
Giving advice by telling teens what to do is only one way of passing on a parent’s knowledge, there are other ways of achieving the same outcome and with a higher likelihood of success. And it’s how you pass on that experience that makes the difference.
How to Get Your Point Across
1. Ask before you give. Always ask your teen if they want your advice before you start to give it. If they say, “yes please” then go ahead and have your say, if they say “no” respect their decision and keep quiet.
2. Question their intent. If your teen has refused advice, ask them specific questions about how they’re going to handle the situation. Asking questions about smaller ‘parts’ of the problem is a way to at least get your teen to think about what’s involved.
3. Provide information instead. Directing your teen to a source of information that’s neutral allows your teen access to information without having to agree to your point of view.
4. Give your teen time. Just because your teen hasn’t given you an immediate answer to your question doesn’t mean they’re ignoring it. Give them time to go away and think about the answers.
5. Highlight their qualities. Reminding teens of their strengths will focus their minds on choosing options that make the best of them. Focus on their weaknesses and they’re likely to lose confidence in doing anything.
6. Listen to your teen. Often just listening to your teen without interrupting will show you that you don’t even need to give advice; your teen already has a solution.