“What Works With Teens: The Five Keys to Restoring Your Relationship” — Britt Rathbone

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5 min. read

Every parent knows the teenage years are tough. The mental and physical growth spurts can seem to turn your teen overnight into someone you hardly know. All your tried-and-true parenting tactics can start to seem useless. As you and your teen struggle to adjust to new realities, communication can start to break down and ugly behavior cycles can start to seem like the new normal.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way! A new and stronger relationship with your teenager is within your grasp. The secret to achieving this goal comes down to five simple behavioral skills, according to acclaimed therapist Britt Rathbone.

Rathbone, TheStudyPro’s September speaker at the popular Lunch & Learn series, is the area’s first and leading authority on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a CBT-based form of therapy that focuses on problem solving and acceptance-based strategies and has shown great success in treating even some of the most challenging mental conditions.

There are a few reasons that adolescence is a fraught and vulnerable time, said Rathbone, the author of the professional’s guide What Works With Teens. Grades, friendships and dating become more important, just as developmental changes to a teenager’s brain kick in to undermine confidence. All this can produce a powder keg of insecurity and vulnerability. As your teen struggles with the scary process of developing his or her own identity, all these new issues combine to make it even harder.

At this point, your teenager needs you more than ever (no matter how much s/he denies it)! You can help smooth over the rough edges of all these changes if you make it your goal to develop a strong relationship with your teen. A strong relationship, according to Rathbone, is one that’s characterized by five important qualities: respect, authenticity, predictability, kindness and acceptance.

By bringing these qualities to your interactions with your teenager, you can improve communication and begin to form a closer bond. What’s more, these qualities are an important part of all relationships! Modeling them for your teen can help him or her learn to use them too, setting up a foundation for happiness down the road.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what is meant by these five key qualities, and how can you make them part of your relationship with your teenager? Luckily Rathbone had many examples to show how you can apply his findings to everyday life.

Respect means taking your teen’s behaviors and feelings seriously. Instead of responding dismissively or condescendingly, take the time to listen. When you do respond, do it in a way that validates what your teenager has told you. Validation doesn’t mean you have to agree with what was said. It merely tells your teen that you are listening and that she or he has been heard. Validation is an essential skill in strengthening your relationship with your teen. To learn more about it, see the infobox.

Authenticity is shown when a parent admits to his or her own shortcomings or provides sincere, helpful feedback. Don’t worry that admitting to imperfections will undermine your standing! Your teenager already knows that you aren’t perfect and is beginning to sense that he or she isn’t either. Show that this is okay by modeling your own self-acceptance.

Predictability, such as keeping your word or being consistent with rewards and consequences, can help reduce your teen’s anxiety. Knowing what to expect and how to meet your expectations will increase your teen’s confidence and provide a solid base for his or her growth.

Kindness conveys the love and support that you may have forgotten how to express! No matter what they say, teenagers still need to know they are loved and accepted. Warm smiles, affectionate words and generosity feel as nice to give as to receive, and inspire more kindness in return.

And acceptance, shown through validation of feelings and statements, allows a teenager to grow and change. You may not often agree with your teen. In fact, maybe you almost never do! But by accepting and validating what you hear, you can meet your teen’s need for self-expression, which helps open his or her mind to new ideas.

These changes may sound easy. But Rathbone acknowledged that new behaviors, no matter how simple, can be very hard to adopt. The important part, he stressed, is to try! Challenge yourself to make the effort and to stick with it. If you can remember to bring these five key qualities into just a few interactions with your teenager, you’re on the right path. And once you and your teenager see how these five behaviors improve your relationship, it might become easier to make them part of your routine.