How to Help Teenagers Solve Problems

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Parents who want to help their teenager learn to solve problems will find resources and support online, in books, in the community and by participating in ongoing conversations with other parents of adolescents. Familiarity with the inner and outer worlds in which teens exist and practical knowledge of successful problem-solving techniques can provide parents with insight about the transition from childhood to adulthood and ideas for teen-focused parenting skills. Your teen might be more likely to turn to and trust you when problems arise if she believes that you are making an effort to understand her.

Listen, Don't Judge

  • Parents and teens need practice to learn how to have respectful and nonjudgmental discussions when it comes to solving problems. For example, don’t tell your teen how she should be feeling; ask her how something makes her feel. That opens up the conversation rather than slamming a door on it. Listen to your teen's opinions and ideas, even if you disagree or disapprove. Moderate levels of conflict with parents in a safe, loving environment can provide teens with opportunities to negotiate rules and resolve conflicts. By remaining open to and not being critical of what your teen says, you can make a positive contribution to her sense of identity and emerging individuality, while also stay connected to her.

Identify the Problem

  • Work together to figure out what the problem is and how to describe it. Try to focus on the identified problem, not on a person or the feelings the problem triggers. For example, being accusatory by saying, “Why don’t you ever clean your room?” will not lead to a productive discussion. It can make your teen feel attacked, which might cause him to become defensive or just incommunicable. Approach the problem – the messy or dirty bedroom – with a statement about how the situation makes you feel. For example, say something such as, “Walking into your room overwhelms me. I know you are busy and I want to help, but I can’t vacuum your room or find the laundry when there is so much stuff on the floor.”

Ask the Questions

  • Your reason for considering something a problem might differ from your teen’s explanation of why it is a problem. Focusing on all the differences seldom leads to a solution, but certain questions can open up the conversation and help the two of you to talk about what is bothering your teen and why. Some of general questions include: "Why is this important to you?" "What is the most upsetting aspect of this?" "Why do you need this?" "Why do you want or not want to do something?" "Why do you want this to happen or not happen?" and "What’s the worst thing that could happen?"

Brainstorm and Evaluate Potential Solutions

  • Collaborate on a list of pros and cons. These can be suggestions that you, your teen or both of you come up with that might solve the problem or at least lessen its impact. For example, the parent may agree to loosen up on the extent of room cleaning expected, or the teen may agree to remove his belongings from the floor so the parent can vacuum. Alternatively, the teen can vacuum his own room once a week and the parent can let him choose the day. Together, you and your teen should go over the list and talk about which ideas seem like real possibilities and which probably won’t work.

Choose a Solution and Evaluate

  • Once you have agreed on a realistic solution or reached a compromise, the next step is to decide on a trial period during which the idea will be put into action. Clarify and put into writing what you have agreed to, including the length of the trial period. All involved should sign an agreement, if necessary. At the end of the trial period, sit down together and talk about what worked, what did not work and what could work with a bit of adjusting. Decide whether or not this is a solution everyone can live with for awhile.

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  • Photo Credit David Pereiras Villagrá/iStock/Getty Images
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