Helping Teens Cope with Three Bs: Bragging, Betrayal, Body Image

teen body image, empathy, power of listeningThe three Bs — bragging, betrayal, and body Image — are a very big deal for both tweens and teens building communities in the digital world. If your child is between the ages of 11 and 18, your family will likely weave in and out of the Three Bs in the year ahead. A snapshot:

  • Bragging: The 24-7 social connection has produced an overload of kids comparing material possessions, social status as well as boasting athletic, academic, or artistic ability. A child of any age needs help keeping this digital onslaught in its proper perspective. On the flip side, he or she may need counsel from time to time on tempering their own bragging.
  • Betrayal: Raising connected kids means the year ahead will hold some painful moments, even some real (or perceived) betrayal. Be it a friend group excluding your child or a friendship or love relationship that ends badly, much of the pain is likely to unfold (and be amplified) online.
  • Body Image: This B needs little if any explanation. Your child is going to be faced with the non-stop tidal wave of beauty and perfection no matter what. They need help deciphering the visual world around them — what’s real, imagined, and what’s relevant.

If you are a parent, looking at these challenges and figuring out how to help a struggling child with them, can feel a lot like standing at the bottom of a high rise and looking up. Where do you begin? How can your words make an impact on your child when so many other voices seem to edge you out?

You listen.

How many times as parents do we slather on the advice or throw down the gauntlet without truly stopping to listen with the intention of truly and understanding our kids? Yes, we are older and (hopefully) wiser than they. We’ve experienced a lot, and that experience is both relevant and valuable.

But there is one thing that is far more relevant and far more valuable than our experience and that is listening first to theirs.

Listening = Magic 

Something magical happens when we listen to our kids before we speak: We understand. We understand their point of view, their feelings, and get the McAfee on some facts that may dramatically change our entire point of view.

Listening with the intent to understand has the power to change everything about your relationship with your child no matter his or her age.

Steven Covey, author of the well-known book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, ranks listening as the #5 most powerful tool in building any relationship. I read this book once a year, and for parents specifically, it’s habit #5 that stands out: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Covey differentiates between five types of listening:

  1. Ignoring: not really listening at all.
  2. Pretending: humming along while not really following.
  3. Selective listening: hearing what you want to hear.
  4. Attentive listening: paying attention to the words.
  5. Empathic listening: intending to understand what the other is trying to communicate.

I’ll confess; I’ve got some mad skills when it comes to #3. Okay . . . I’m pretty much the best at #3. Frankly, I think I know what my kids are thinking because I’ve been a teenager but actually, I don’t know. I don’t know at all. I don’t know what my child’s personal experience is in her school, with her friends, and in her world. Most importantly, I certainly don’t know what’s going on in her heart.shutterstock_60170320

More honesty? I’m pretty sure my go-to is #3 because it’s easier. It’s easier to talk than it is to listen. It’s easier to have my speech prepped and delivered without stopping to consider new information, new insight, new feelings. It’s easier to pull quips of wisdom from my bag of experience than it is to take the time to consider her experience around a certain issue.

The power of empathy

Empathetic listening — seeking to understand your child — will be key to helping your child through the Three Bs.

According to Covey, if you are serious about understanding the people around you, give them your undivided attention. He calls this emotional banking.

Here are the four levels of empathetic listening:

  • Mimic the content: repeat what your child just said. This practice ensures you are listening and that your child knows you are listening. The good thing about mimicking is that there’s no place for judgment;
  • Rephrase the content: tell the same story, but in your own words. This not only shows your child that you are listening, but that you understand what he or she is (literally) saying;
  • Reflect on feelings: focus on the emotions that lie behind what your child is saying, not on the words that try to express these emotions;
  • Rephrase the content and reflect the feeling: this is a combination of the second and third form of empathic listening. It shows that you are truly listening and understanding what message lies behind the words.

It sounds a little complicated but Covey’s points can be whittled down to this: Practice empathy. Stop talking and listen to your child. Make every effort to understand his or her perspective and feelings.

How do you hope to improve your parent-child relationship in 2016? Please share!

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