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If there is one thing that teens know best, it is when something is unfair!

The feedback I hear from parents (and I have certainly seen in my work with teens) is that they are like super-detectors for things that appear to be unfair! “But how come SHE gets to do it and I don’t!” or the always-classic “But all my friends parents let them do XYZ, you guys are so unfair!”. What goes hand-in-hand with this is a predictable pattern of teens withdrawing from the family unit, usually to spend time with their friends. This can be really confronting for some parents who feel like their teen has evolved (devolved?!) into a person that is far less connected to them than they were used to.

Believe it not, these are all good things.

As teens are growing up, they are managing some significant growth in physical, social and psychological domains. As with any periods of significant growth (think about the ‘leaps’ very little children go through and how dramatic those changes are), there is a period of trying to work out what to do with all these changes, consolidate them and then stabilise.

For a lot of families, a large source of conflict is in trying to make important, and typical, day-to-day decisions. Where do we go for a holiday? What chores will everyone do? What board game should we play? What are we going to do about all this screen time use? When kids are younger, it is easier(?) for parents to make the decision, but as your kids move into teenage years, it is important that they get a chance to be a part of decision making. Why? It helps them develop their independence, recognise that they can be a contributing person in the household, and importantly, it can help iron out those “but that isn’t fair!” type comments. All while helping your teen stay more connected to the family.

So here are some tips for doing this:

– Don’t be weird. If you’ve ever been to a presentation that I’ve done about teens, you will likely have heard me say this. A) it is funny – so that is always a good thing in a presentation, but more importantly b) it quickly gets to the heart of an important concept in trying new parenting strategies. And that is that you have to do it in a way that suits your family style. As you read the tips below, adapt them to suit your style. If you don’t have formal family meetings at the dinner table, it is going to be weird if you start without any context!

– Pre-plan your mindset prior to talking with your teen. Think about some of the concepts below in advance, so that you have an idea of how you are going to do this and what you are comfortable with

– If you are wanting to include your teen in family decision making, make sure that you are actually giving them a chance to contribute. If you don’t want to give them a complete free choice (e.g. what will we have for dinner tonight?), then give them a ‘forced-choice’ (e.g. we can have burritos or spaghetti – what do you want?)

– If you are asking for their opinion, you have to genuinely hear them out. There is a difference between hearing someone out and saying no, then just coming right out and saying no

– Pick your time and location. There is no ‘right’ way to do this, so pick the space and time that works best for your family. Probably a good idea to avoid distractions/busy times

– Consider giving their idea a ‘trial’. If they want to change how/when they do their study, agree to a trial period (2 weeks?) and some kind of criteria to work out whether it has worked or not. They just might surprise you and have a better idea than you!

Including your teen in decision making gives them a better sense of choosing and seeing how they can integrate their needs and wishes within a broader context (i.e. the family). It isn’t about giving them what they want, but taking them through a process that facilitates the end decision

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At ConnectEd Counselling and Consultancy, we believe that all families, and the communities they belong to, benefit from a little extra care and support. Whether the problems are big or small, we want to make sure everyone has the chance to feel connected – to themselves, to others and to their community. We offer counselling services to young people and families and have immediate availability. If you need some support, get in touch here:

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