Listening To Your Teenager

by Donald Marmara, Somatic Psychotherapist and Educator, Artarmon, Sydney

A girl was sitting on her own in the school playground. I walked up to her and said “Are you OK? You look sad”.

She replied “It’s my birthday tomorrow”.

“Why does that make you sad?” I asked

”I’m getting a bicycle”

“Don’t you want a bicycle?”

“No I don’t want a bicycle. I want my dad to spend the day with me”   

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes I did but he didn’t listen.  Nobody listens to me. I really want my dad to spend the day with me!”

Listening to yourself

It’s important to listen not only to what your teenagers say, but also to their body language and voice tone. Also to look for any signs that something may be going on that they’re not telling you about and to “read between the lines”.

In order to do this effectively, you need first of all to listen to yourself. You need to be aware of any issues that are going on in your life that are causing you stress and preventing you from giving your full attention to your teenager. If you’re finding this difficult you may need to ask for help.

Parents need understanding and encouragement, not criticism

Parents cop a lot of criticism. As if it isn’t hard enough to juggle work, family life and social commitments they are often expected to be supermums and superdads and criticised when they’re not!

This only makes things worse. Reality is that most of us go through challenging times in a society and environment that does not always prioritise or even understand our values and needs.

We all need help at times, and it takes honesty and courage to acknowledge this. The fear of being seen as weak and of reaching out for help prevents many people from having healthier lives and more fulfilling relationships.

Core Development offers the following to Parents, Teenagers, Educators and Practitioners who work with children:

  • Individual somatic psychotherapy sessions (also available by phone)
  • Couples sessions
  • Sessions for parents and teenagers(together or separately)
  • In-house workshops tailored for your team or organisation
  • Public workshops and Talks

The more effectively our needs are met, the more available we are to help others. That’s why when a parent makes their own genuine needs a priority, they are also putting themselves in the best possible position to help their children.

It’s harder to listen when your feelings are involved

In the case of the above example of the girl and her dad, it’s not that the girl didn’t want a bicycle, it’s that what she wanted most was for her dad to spend the day with her. That was more important for her than having a bicycle, and what was even more important was that she wanted to feel loved and listened to.

As she asked her dad to spend the day with her and was told instead that she was getting a bicycle, she felt really hurt and from her point of view at the time, giving her the bicycle added insult to injury!

How could it have been handled better? Her dad could have explained to his teenage daughter that his job didn’t allow him to take days off whenever he wanted to, and made an agreement that as soon as he could get a day off he would spend it with her.

It seems strange that an intelligent father who truly loved his daughter didn’t do this, however this is an example of how even simple and obvious solutions often don’t occur to us when our feelings are involved.

The girl’s dad really wanted to spend the day with his daughter. He felt disappointed and guilty that he was unable to do that. He found it too hard to deal with his feelings, so he pushed them aside and acted as if he hadn’t heard his daughter’s request. He hoped that giving her a bicycle would make her feel better…….

In order to respond authentically, he needed to get help in dealing with his feelings and with the stresses in his own life.

You don’t have to be mentally ill to benefit from seeing a therapist

The processes of counselling and psychotherapy are designed to help us deal more effectively with stress and life’s challenges.

I think it’s unfortunate that they are frequently promoted and practiced just as clinical processes, as this can reinforce the belief that, in order to see a counsellor or psychotherapist, there must be something wrong with you or you must be mentally ill.

I believe that our society has drifted so far away from a healthy social and emotional environment that, far from being a sign of weakness or mental illness, symptoms of stress and emotional distress can often be signs that the person is healthy enough to recognise that all is not well and that changes are required.

That is why I call my work emotional learning. I believe that, as well as helping people who are mentally ill, the principles of somatic psychotherapy and counselling can be used to help healthy people gain a better understanding of their emotional processes and enable them to have less stress, more energy, a healthier life and more fulfilling relationships.

So if you’re a parent and you and your teenager are facing challenges in your relationships or in your lives generally, you may wish to reflect on what you need to do to make your lives more fulfilling. You may also wish to consider whether seeing a counsellor or somatic psychotherapist could assist you in this process.

This could be the best present you could give to both your teenager and yourself.