Kisten Cobabe has been curious about relationships since her youngest memories. Her work with families and teenagers first started in high school and continued onto her mentoring a teenager during college, before she even started studying social work as a graduate student. With her history in it, she’s come to find old patterns fizzle as society begins its steps into new parenting patterns. “No one is meant to parent alone. We all need support sometimes. It is an honor to walk beside families as they navigate the teenager territory.” Says Cobabe. With that, Kirsten nurtured her career in family coaching, supporting parents and teenagers throughout adolescence.
Any parent will tell you, raising kids is one of life’s biggest challenges. Whether you’re a new parent, or an experienced one, it never hurts to get new tips that can come in handy! We asked Kirsten a few questions and for any useful tips we can all take in to account.
What is one thing parents can start doing today that can help them connect with their teenagers?
One of the most supportive tools I coach parents in is learning how to authentically listen. It’s about the words you choose and also where these words come from. It’s about listening to the words your teen shares and to what isn’t being said. If you aren’t genuinely curious or if you are attached to an outcome or agenda, your teenager will pick up on this and they will be less likely to share. Learning how to be present and authentically curious is essential during any stage of parenting, and especially during these pivotal teen years.
Examples of how to respond:
“I hear you.”
“Mmm, wanna share more?”
“No wonder you were upset!”
“You handled that better than I would have.”
“Wow, I get why you feel how you feel.”
“That sounds hard.”
“Do you wanna vent or problem solve?”
“Is there something I can do for you that would help?”
Examples of how not to respond:
“I hear you, but…”
“But you have so much to be grateful for.”
“Yeah, but what about their perspective?”
“You have to look on the bright side though…”
So often we think we are listening, but we are really trying to fix things, change their mind, change their experience, make them (or ourselves) feel better or teach a lesson. Parenting isn’t about raising a happy child or a mini me, it’s about supporting your child through tough times and celebrating who they are along an often-bumpy ride. As we are able to sit in discomfort with teenagers, ask reflective questions and offer unconditional support, we provide them the opportunity to find their own inner truth, answers, resilience and radical self-acceptance and to trust that they too can sit in discomfort and find their own way. Teens don’t need to learn this by being deprived of support, they can learn this by being modeled support.
If you find yourself in a situation needing a break from listening, you can set limits around this by saying, “I need a few minutes. I’m going to take a walk and in 10 minutes we can pick up right where we left off.” Conversations on walks or in car rides are also an option, where eye contact is less likely and the conversation can feel more natural. You can also support your teen in finding a mentor, counselor or therapist. Sometimes teenagers need someone outside of the family to connect with.
Last year, COVID tossed everyone a curveball resulting in kids and teens spending a majority of their time at home. This may have been followed by an increase in stress, tension and often times arguments over space and privacy. But, how has this affected parents and their parenting styles?
How do you believe the pandemic and being in quarantine have changed how parents should connect with their teenagers? Or has nothing changed?
The pandemic affected us all, each person so uniquely. Every relationship is different and so is every teenager. Some teens engage while playing video games, others basketball, others art, others music, others more regularly without prompting, others in the car and some struggle to engage. Part of this is natural because they are individuating and cultivating their own identity. Naturally there will be some level of separation and it might feel like they are “breaking up” with you. Try not to take this personally but do learn from the experience. Stay open and curious along the way.
I encourage parents to follow their teenagers lead when they are at a loss for how to communicate or connect. Ask if you can join their video game or ask them about their favorite show. Parents are often frustrated when they ask their teen to join them for a hike or to dinner and their teen doesn’t jump at the opportunity. It isn’t usually personal. Teenagers have their own preferences and timelines (think different food preferences, Netflix series and sleep schedules). You can try asking what they’d like to do or watch and offer a sense of control in what time together looks like — and then join them when they invite/let you.
Despite what it feels like, they do want to spend time with you and they do care about what you think, but they need to have some say in the matter. The autonomy and boundaries they express will support them as they enter adulthood and find themselves in situations where they may need to dig deep for courage, say no or leave uncomfortable situations. They also might be resistant if there have been issues with your communication in the past. Adults can learn that we need to earn their trust (despite what you expect these years should look and feel like). Apologizing for a disagreement that went awry can be powerful
If your teen doesn’t seem to want to hang out or talk, ask them (genuinely with true curiosity) what they like about their favorite video game/book/friend/hobby and whenever possible and invited, join them. Play the game, read the book, support them in spending time with that friend or try or ask questions about that hobby. There is nothing more important than your relationship and when this is balanced, anything is possible.
4) How does one find the right balance of giving your teenager independence while letting them know that you want to be a part of their lives?
Teenagers need freedom and autonomy as well as boundaries. Boundaries support young people in feeling safe, however parents often find themselves pendulum parenting meaning they do the opposite as their parents did instead of doing what the teenager in front of you needs.
Explore boundaries together and ask your teenager what they need. If it’s something you can compromise, explore that. If not, make it clear you understand and create a plan to work toward it. Sometimes there are firm no’s and this is okay too. Everyone deserves the space to say no.
As we grow out of the old parenting paradigm (the do as I say, because I said so parenting approach), we can offer teens some control. We might even see that they are able to make mature, rational choices especially when they have all the information, however don’t expect this to be 100% perfect (none of us are). They are in a risk taking developmental stage where their frontal lobe is still developing. They need support and guidance – and it might not always be from you. Support the outside of the family, safe, positive role models and connections.
Talking about boundaries and consequences beforehand can also be supportive. Sometimes teenagers don’t know that if you get in a fender bender, car insurance costs increase or when you miss too many classes you have to attend summer school.
5) What is the best method to deal with social media when parenting a teenager? Would limiting their usage be beneficial? Or perhaps not letting them have social media accounts until you believe they are ready? Would having access to their accounts impeach their independence?
Some teenagers are able to manage the stress, stimulation of social media, others less so. Some families can introduce a family group text as early as 6 years old so that your child begins to learn what is appropriate and how to communicate in the digital realm. The world is different now and learning the skills to navigate social media and technology is essential. That being said, some young people need more limits and guidance than others. I believe teenagers can benefit from talking about the risks associated with social media, as well as the benefits. It can open the doorway to connection as well as an opportunity to explore their thoughts, feelings, and values. It also opens the opportunity to create a plan for how to handle some of the issues that could arise. Information plays a supportive role during this transformational time. This is an area where getting professional support could be beneficial because each child is unique and there is a big difference between 11 and 18.
Check out my free guide here.
6) At what age would you say is the most critical age of a teenager’s development stage?
The entire adolescent period is the most critical, and into their mid-20s as their frontal lobe develops. This is a formative time, one where they are forging their own identity and expressing and exploring who they truly are. Their eyes are wide open to the troubles of the world and also the joys. They are curious, brave and creative thinkers. It is an amazing time to engage, connect and really foster a foundation of trust. Young minds are still open and flexible, often with less limitations, therefore able to see unique and creative solutions to problems.
Teenagers will also reveal to us what we have disowned within ourselves, what may still be happening in the family that is no longer serving us, what we need to integrate and even what the world needs to integrate. If we can pause and stop thinking we are right simply because we are older, we might be able to find common ground – and maybe learn something profound.
Do you believe parents can be close friends with their teenagers? Or should parents try not to get too close with their teenagers and be more of a parent figure?
I believe that parents can be close with their teenagers and be parents, especially if they can view their child as an equal and whole human being. I see parenting as a partnership. Both authoritative and passive parenting have their own issues, so a middle path is often a supportive choice. There’s a lot of wiggle room and flexibility on that middle road. That helps since teens are always evolving. Present parenting is more about seeing children as people and being curious about who they are and what they are interested in – and not interested in. The world is changing rapidly and young people will be facing unique challenges. I believe there is great value in seeing children as teachers, equals and people we have so much to learn from, and with.
Tip: Celebrate when they say no and question you. In order to be autonomous, trust themselves and make the right decisions they need to learn how to say no. It doesn’t mean you will 100% adhere to their request, but you can be curious about it and work to find common ground. They are asking to be heard and they are also asking you to hold boundaries. It is possible to be clear, calm, compassionate and consistent.
Is it possible for a parent to over-communicate with their teenager? Should there be a limit to how much is communicated?
Certainly, especially if the teenager feels as though they need to care for, protect or take care of the parent. There is a balance and mistakes happen. Whenever needed, apologize, and try again. Talking through big (and small) things, asking questions and engaging young people is important, however teenagers are not their parents’ therapists or coaches. Be sure your teenager knows this and is able to practice saying no to you, and also their siblings.