Monday, Feb 06th

Sage Advice on Talking to Teens and Tweens

pubertypodcastThe eye rolling, the back talk, the slammed doors…most parents of adolescents are familiar with the rollercoaster of communicate with tweens and teens. Our once adoring children, who used to turn to us to answer their every question…after question…after 385 questions, now believe that we are the dumbest people on earth who just “don’t get it.” For many parents this can be infuriating and we can easily get caught in a cycle of arguments and yelling. Luckily for Scarsdale parents, on January 12th the Friends of the Scarsdale Library treated patrons to a wonderful program, “Communicating with Tweens and Teens” aimed at helping parents navigate the intricacies of these beautiful but sometimes trying years.

The presentation was given by Vanessa Kroll Bennet, mother of 4, writer, entrepreneur, and co-host of the Puberty Podcast. Bennet delivered her informative yet entertaining talk with a sense of humor and humility that had her audience both laughing and feeling that as parents, we aren’t in this alone.

To start her discussion, Bennet reminded us, “If we meet adolescents where they ARE, not where we EXPECT them to be, we can reach them in powerful and wonderful ways.” She then went on to describe how hormones have a huge impact on children’s moods, thoughts, and behaviors and this is not something they can control or have the tools to deal with in constructive ways. Even worse, Bennet clarified that puberty now starts two years earlier than it used to but the average age of a girl’s first period is still twelve. As Bennet points out, this means that puberty starts earlier but lasts longer, so kids are in this stage of life for nearly a decade. While dealing with moody tweens and teens isn’t easy for parents, she encourages us to have empathy for what they are going through.

Though we know that the highs and lows of puberty are developmentally appropriate, it doesn’t make dealing with them any easier. Bennet had some remarkably sage advice. First, she described how when our kids come in like a tornado of emotions or withdraw to their rooms in silence, parents tend to want to find out what their problems are and then try to fix them. Instead of indulging the urge to pry and to problem-solve, Bennet suggests just sitting and listening to your children and offering validation where you can. She also encourages parents to “dip into” conversations with humor (when appropriate), curiosity, and empathy. Though we should listen more than we talk, “listening isn’t necessarily silent,” and so Bennet offers the following as words of connection:

- “That’s such a bummer.”
- “Sounds like a tough day.”
- “Ugh, I’m sorry that happened.”
- “Do you want me to just listen or do you want me to offer solutions?”

While empathy and validation are important ingredients for healthy communication, Bennet gave this quote from Dr. Aliza Pressman which says, “All feelings are welcome. All behaviors are not.” If a parent feels their child is crossing a line or being disrespectful, Bennet encourages them to set boundaries and create appropriate consequences that fit the offense.

Bennet reminded us to recognize that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. If we do slip-up and lose our cool, say the wrong thing, or ignore/avoid important feelings, Bennet proposes that we take a “do over”. Although the do-over might not take place right away (in fact, according to Bennet, we should try to not address issues when emotions are high because it makes it hard to have productive conversations), she advised her audience:

-It’s never too late for a do over.
-Acknowledge to your kid that you messed up.
-If appropriate, explain why you reacted the way you did.
-Ask for another chance to have the conversation.

Also important to consider when trying to communicate with tweens and teens is remembering to leave your own baggage at the door. Bennet suggests that when a conversation with your child “triggers” you or you find yourself having an outsized reaction, you should ask yourself “where is this coming from?”

She recommends that parents:

-Recognize when our own histories are coloring our approach to an issue.
-Take note that kids are growing up in such a different world (social media, the pandemic, etc.) -Remember we can’t possibly know what it is like for them.
-Remember our narratives (especially about body image and trauma) should not dictate our children’s narratives.

For healthy communication with our children, Bennet further suggests that parents try to suspend our judgment. She stressed that parents should avoid phrases like:

- I know exactly how you feel. (Because again, we live in very different times and we can't possibly know exactly what someone feels).

- Why do you hang out with that kid, they’re bad news. (which will likely just make your kid cling to the friendship even more).

-It is not a big deal. Get over it. (Bennet reminds parents that because of their hormones and their still-developing brains, tweens and teens feel things way more intensely. To your child, it IS a big deal and when we say that it is not, it invalidates them).

Though your inner monologue might shout, “Give me a break kid,” our outer monologue (what we express to our children) should say something like “That stinks, I’m sorry that happened.” She also believes that it is incredibly helpful for parents to ask questions and offered these conversation prompts:

-What did you notice?
-How do you feel about…?
-What’s it like for you when...?

Bennet concluded her presentation with the idea that adopting new communication styles isn’t easy and will take a lot of practice. She also reiterated that in the end, teens and tweens want to feel a sense of validation and connection with their parents. She suggested that it is in the most unexpected moments that your child will open up to you, or offer you nuggets of insight into their lives. So just sit with them, get “elbow to elbow,” show interest in their interests, even if you really just want to go to bed and read your book, Bennet suggests sitting and listening to their stories about Fortnite or why the new Taylor Swift album means so much to them. In one of the last slides of the evening Bennet shared a quote from Wendy Mogel, Author of Voice Lessons that perhaps sums it up best, “Be enchanted with their enchantment…there are some things they are very happy to talk about with tremendous enthusiasm.”

Vanessa Kroll Bennet had many more ideas, suggestions and tips on how to better communicate with your tweens and teens. Throughout the program she touched on how to talk about sex, pornography, smartphones, drugs, going to parties and so much more! Most of these topics are covered in her weekly podcast The Puberty Podcast which can be found here:

Vanessa Kroll Bennett is a podcaster, writer and entrepreneur who helps adults navigate uncertainty while they support the kids they love. Vanessa is the co-host of The Puberty Podcast and President of Content at Order of Magnitude. She was the founder of Dynamo Girl, a company focused on building kids’ self-esteem through sports and puberty education. As the host of Conversations on Parenting and Beyond at the JCC Manhattan, Vanessa explores all aspects of growing families. She is a contributor to Grown & Flown and Scary Mommy as well as writing her Uncertain Parenting Newsletter about the messy process of raising tweens and teens, including her own four children ages 11 to 19.

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