Listening to your teenager’s emotions is part of coaching them. In addition, your emotions are important to consider if the coaching is to be effective. Parents often get caught up in the emotions of their adolescents. For instance, if your teen is angry and yells at you, it may provoke anger in you. When your teen is sad, you may also become sad and not have words to console them. It is quite natural to feel like this because that is the way we have understood and practiced emotions in our culture.
Emotions are contagious, and this happens in all parts of life, not just with your teen. If you unexpectedly find yourself at a party thrown to celebrate your team winning the league championship, you will begin to feel joy and want to join the festivities. If you attend the funeral of someone unknown to you, you will feel the sadness of others and begin to take it in. That is natural, but sadness may not be the emotion we need to be in to support our family.
At times it is important to maintain our emotional center. We can then choose compassion for the families and relatives of the deceased rather than withdrawing in sadness. We may not visibly change our behavior, but the shift in emotions will be felt by others. We see this competency displayed by first responders and other health care workers. It is an ability that is important for anyone involved in helping others and is essential for coaches.
Your new role as a coach to your teen requires that you develop this ability. As an example, imagine your teen is not treating people, including you, respectfully. It might trigger disappointment as their parent because you raised them to be respectful. Your by-default reaction might be to instruct them to be respectful or even punish them if they don’t. Maintaining your emotional center allows you to select the emotion that will produce your desired outcome. Compassion or respect will likely get you better results than disappointment.
If you react out of your disappointment and tell your teen how to behave, it will not change their pattern of behavior for long. They may change momentarily to please you but will return to their old behavior sooner or later. If they choose to develop and act out of respect, it will serve them for life.
Another emotion you could choose is curiosity. The story of curiosity is that I believe it may be helpful to find out more, so I will investigate. Curiosity is the fundamental emotion that keeps us learning and discovering new possibilities. Curiosity is an extremely valuable emotion for parents to help their teens overcome their emotional barriers.
Let’s go back to your teen’s lack of respect. When you look at their behavior through the filter of curiosity, you will want to find out what keeps them from treating others with respect because the story of respect is that “this thing or person deserves to be treated as valuable.” The impulse of respect is to treat with high regard, and it is the emotion that allows us to show others the value they represent to us.
The questions you ask as a parent-coach will focus on finding out what they feel makes someone important and why they feel some people are not of value. This will reveal blind spots they may not be aware of and help you understand how they see the world. It is important that you don’t judge their view. It is what it is, whether you like it or not. Not liking it won’t change it.
You may also find that there are other emotions your teen is experiencing along with disrespect, such as contempt, dislike, or even resentment about the way someone treated him.
Once you and your teen know where they stand emotionally, it is time to consider how they could shift emotions if they see value in doing so. For this step, it is helpful to see what negative consequences the troublesome emotion produces. What is the cost to them of treating others disrespectfully? What do they lose when they are disrespectful? If the consequences are serious enough, it is a motivator to change. If they don’t see an impact, they are unlikely to change, and another strategy is necessary.
If they choose to shift emotionally, which emotion do they think would serve them best? This requires your teen to explore possibilities. Since there are more than 200 emotions, it may take time and reflection to find one that they want to try out. Simply having them name this new emotion is a big step. Both of you are learning the new emotion’s story, impulse, and purpose is another. Finally, you can help them remember how they have generated this emotion in the past. That will show them it is possible and gives them clues about how to make the change. Your non-judgmental support is the final element.