Between Parent and Teenager: Introduction

“As I think back…you didn’t seem to do a thing but be there. And yet a harbour doesn’t do anything either, except to stand there quietly with arms always outstretched waiting for the travellers to come home.” Between Parent and Teenager, Dr Haim G. Ginnott

Families often struggle to navigate the stormy seas of the parent-teenager relationship. This classic book offers practical advice on effective communication and empathy in parent-teenager interactions. Concrete suggestions for dealing with daily situations and challenges faced by parents are presented as a guide to facilitate understanding between generations. Aspects covered include praise and criticism, the expression of anger, working towards independence, and the assumption of responsibility in all matters of importance in a teen’s life, while stressing the importance of effective communication and empathy in parent-teenager interactions. 

The apt comparison of a harbour and a parent suggests a parent’s job is to help the teenager navigate the difficult, and often, rough waters of adolescence by providing shelter, safety and security.  As one generation rises, the sinking generation is an anchor, giving the boat enough rope to explore safely and endure bumps along the way.    The concept of the parent’s availability and willingness to be present and engaged without floundering come to mind, providing possible coexistence and preservation of peace.

“Our concerns versus their needs. Our fears versus their feelings.”

The book recognises the parent’s own conflicts and dilemmas, where “My child is a child no longer”, and excitement and fear co-exist as a parent can no longer protect the teen to the same degree as before.

“Mother hovers over me like a helicopter and I’m fed up with her noise and hot air. I think I’m entitled to sneeze without an explanation.” Anthony’s mother is hurt and angry. Can they coexist?

The following points provide an outline for parents to better connect with their teens:

1.         Use “I” statements: When communicating with your teenager, use “I” statements to express your feelings and thoughts rather than “you” statements that can come across as blaming or accusatory. For example, instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” say “I feel frustrated when I don’t feel heard.”

2.         Active listening: When your teenager is talking, give them your full attention and actively listen to what they are saying without interrupting or judging. This means making eye contact, nodding to show you’re following, and summarizing what they said to show you understanding.

3.         Avoid criticism: Criticizing your teenager can be counterproductive and make them feel defensive. Instead, focus on the behaviour or issue at hand and offer constructive feedback on how they can improve.

4.         Use humor: Using humor can help diffuse tense situations and make your teenager feel more comfortable. However, it’s important to use humor appropriately and not at the expense of your teenager’s feelings.

5.         Offer choices: Giving your teenager choices can help them feel more empowered and in control of their lives. However, it’s important to set limits and boundaries around those choices to ensure they are safe and appropriate.

6.         Avoid power struggles: Engaging in power struggles with your teenager can lead to resentment and damage the relationship. Instead, focus on finding common ground and working together to find a solution.

7.         Validate feelings: Acknowledge your teenager’s feelings and let them know that you understand and empathize with them, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view.

8.         Stay calm: When conflicts arise, try to stay calm and avoid getting defensive or angry. Taking a step back and taking a deep breath can help you approach the situation with a clearer head.

A series of articles will address an array of topics addressing effective communication tools for parents, including responding to rebellion, doing no harm, healing dialogue, a new approach to criticism, anger without insult and a new approach to praise.

Based on “Between Parent and Teenager, Dr Haim G. Ginnott”