Try on Your Teenage Glasses by David Kronish
Ever try looking at things from a different angle? That’s what we often have to do for a successful marriage. Learn to listen—and keep quiet. Well, our teen and young adult children demand the same. As D. Sterling with her insightful words puts it, "Teenagers are unpredictable"; they are smack in the middle of significant physiological, emotional and psychological changes, such that often they don't even understand themselves. They look more toward having fun than playing it safe. Many teens lack risk awareness and tend to engage in precarious behavior, such as texting while driving or using substances. One of my own children once told me, "Abba, sometimes you just have to let go and enjoy life, despite the risks."
At the bright young age of 20, or even 15, our young adult does not yet have two feet planted firmly on the ground—in other words, the maturity and insight of an adult. Trying to “fast-track” your teen or young adult child will often backfire, resulting in resentment and defiance.
The Ramchal, in Mesillat Yesharim, provides a metaphor for life experiences. He writes life is like navigating through a maze. Our Chachamim—learned, wise and experienced people—are situated above the maze and can see the correct path and the way to arrive at the desired finished line. Our response, much of the time is, "Thanks, but no thanks" or "I'll do it my way." Well, that is exactly how the vast majority of our teens feel when we try to offer them advice and guidance.
What are teens and young adults saying when they “push back” or seem irritable, as they often do? They are trying to express what they may or may not be aware they are feeling. They want to be respected, simply because they are human beings. Don't we adults often feel the same way?
So how do we show respect to our teenage children? By listening to them. By listening without planning our response to what they’re saying while they are saying it. We naturally feel more willing to share, and less of an urge to argue or explode, when the person we are speaking to is genuinely listening to us, and not just waiting for an opportunity to get in their own two cents. There is a time and a place for advice, but first teens must feel heard, understood, and loved.
Naama Moses, a counselor, certified lecturer in CBT and columnist for Olam Katan (a weekly newspaper for teens) presents us with a brief summary of the steps needed to be a good listener and to foster positive and close relationships, all from the perspective of our teens:
A. Be with me, here and now—let me feel your presence.
B. Be a discoverer—be interested in what I’m telling you; try to understand me without being judgmental at all. I am a different person, with different life experiences, growing up in a different day and age.
C. Check in (reflect back) with me, to show you’ve understood me and that you care.
D. Listen to me, until I’m finished saying what I have to say. Sometimes, my most important thoughts will come at the end of what I’m telling you.
E. Please don’t rush to offer me solutions. That’s not what I want or need from you. At the moment I’m not looking for your wisdom, I need your unconditional love and acceptance.
Dr. Joshua Ritchie, director of the Refuah Institute and close student of the previous Amshinover Rebbe, added a few invaluable points in his booklet on creating harmonious relationships.
1. Be Encouraging Express admiration and appreciation for my qualities, accomplishments, values and courage. Validate my feelings and endorse my positive aspirations.
2. Be Empowering Empower me by supporting me in making my own decisions. My successes will increase my self-respect, confidence, sense of responsibility and empowerment.
3. Be Optimistic Optimistically trust in my essential goodness.
4. Be Loving To love is to give, unconditionally. Your love for me will be nurturing and healing and will help me grow and develop
When we truly listen, out of love and a desire to understand, it will ultimately lead to greater closeness and thereby a more honest and open relationship. And, as Dr. Baruch Shulem says in his book, The Jerusalem Formula, if we give positive feedback, couched in positive language, we exponentially increase the chances of developing open lines of communication. That leads to a desire—on both sides—to share what we feel and develop a closer relationship.