(Taken from “Framing Strategies to Shape Parent and Adolescent Understandings of Development” by Kendall-Taylor and Ginsburg, Pediatrics, September 2021, Volume 148, Number 3)
Here are some tips for talking about the difficult, fun, exciting, tumultuous, scary, and invigorating time that is adolescent development…
Avoid saying: “Are you ready for this?” ~ This makes it sound like the goal of adolescence is survival, rather than development.
Instead, say: “Adolescence is an exciting time to explore and discover the world” ~ This frames adolescence as an opportunity to grow (and for parents to guide that opportunity)
Avoid saying: “The might push you away” ~ This triggers a fear of rejection and makes adolescence seem like a horrible time
Instead, say: “It is an adolescent’s goal to become increasingly independent. Don’t be surprised if they push you away sometimes to prove they can stand on their own.” ~ Research shows that adolescents continue to look to their parents for influence!
Avoid saying: “The emotional centers of the brain are further developed than the thinking centers. That is why adolescents seem like they are ‘all engine and no breaks’” ~ This stereotype of adolescents doesn’t give any hope or guidance
Instead, say: “Adolescent brains grow very fast and it is important to help support and guide their learning” ~ When adolescents are presented as learners it opens up a space for adults to help them learn
Avoid saying: “Adolescents are risky and the world is a dangerous place” ~ Although true, this statement encourages adults to set rules to protect their adolescent, but doesn’t encourage them to engage with them to understand the why of rules
Instead, say: “Adolescents are meant to explore the world and expand their boundaries. Adults can help them develop healthy and appropriate boundaries so they can safely learn” ~ This keeps the lines of communication open between the adolescent and their parent.
Avoid saying: “Peer pressure can be painful and harmful” ~ This enacts adults’ protective instincts and “it activates surveillance rather than a supportive mindset”
Instead, say: “Adolescents need to learn how to have relationships with people other than their family. It is our role to support them in this” ~ It reminds adults of the importance of peer relationships and refocuses on supporting them. (instead of ruling them out)
Avoid saying: “Adolescents can be impulsive and make some very unhealthy choices, especially when they get emotional” ~ Again, this enacts adults’ protective instincts and perhaps inhibit them from coregulating with their adolescent and having thoughtful engagement with them
Instead, say: “Parents can help adolescents connect their reasoning brains with their emotional brains” ~ This put the focus on engagement to build up skills, as well as coregulating with their adolescent.
Avoid saying: “Your child needs professional help” ~ This statement cues a state of brokenness and may reinforce feelings of shame and social stigma.
Instead, say: “Your child deserves to feel better. This is an opportunity for her to get the professional support that will develop her skills to learn to manage the uncomfortable feelings she is experiencing” ~ This focuses on the inherent goodness of the adolescent and builds on their strengths, as opposed to highlighting their ‘brokenness’