Has your teenager been acting out lately? Are they flexing their “no” muscles? The more you push them the more they pull away. It is incredibly frustrating, and sometimes scary, when you cannot control them and they are making unhealthy or unsafe choices. You are not alone; many parents struggle with taming a teenager. But there is a way to speak with them that can give one of the best chances of success, and that is called Motivational Interviewing. This method of communication was developed to help teenagers recognize why it is not a good idea to indulge in drugs, but it can be used in a variety of ways.
Before we go over motivational interviewing (MI), let us review some foundational communication tips to always keep in mind for healthy conversation: Use I-statements, like “I’m worried, and I care;” do not resort to yelling or name calling, if it comes close to this take a pause on the conversation and calm down first, and ask them regularly about their feelings and express yours as well, especially the ones underneath anger. If you need a refresher in any of those, see previous blogs.
With MI, you want the other person to see why doing or not doing something would be in their best interest. Something like: “Wouldn’t it be just so nice to keep your driver’s license and not get it taken away? I’d hate for the police to do that when they catch you driving without your friends at night without adult supervision.” Another example might be: “I know you love your phone; wouldn’t it be nice to keep that privilege and not get grounded when you sneak out?” The underlying philosophies are to be curious, a team member, and on their side trying to help get them what they want, whereas you are also helping them learn consequences and staying safe. If the communication has broken down, please seek out family or parent counseling, it will be well worth it.
Alan Godfrey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #102925.