6 Ways to Be a Parental Sounding Board

This article has been deemed Radical by our teen team.  Check out the rest of our Radical Articles if you like this one!

Sometimes I just needed my parents to be there without reminding me that they were there.  We really, really, really hate asking you for help and advice—and sometimes even hate when you give it.  But, for the most part we do want you there and need you.

When your teen is upset in the car after school, after a fight with a friend or just moody and you cannot figure out why, try these tips to get them to open up.

1. Detach

You never know what is going to come out of our mouth, so be prepared for anything and detach yourself (momentarily) from any possible answer until we have gotten everything off of our chest.

2. Look for Sneakers

I couldn’t think of a noun for things that are snuck into conversations, but teens very rarely will ask for help, but often times give you signals that you need it:

-They say, “you wouldn’t understand.”  In actuality they are afraid you won’t understand, but wish you did.  This is the perfect time to say, “Hey, why don’t you try me.”

-They sandwich: “My friend Cheryl and I were at the mall and we were buying shoes and I saw my ex-boyfriend and he said he broke up with me because I was fat and then we went to Gap and got that polo shirt I was wanting…”  Listen Carefully!

-They pretend it isn’t them, i.e. my friend has this problem…

3. Don’t try to fix the problem

I have noticed dads are particularly bad with this one.  If your kid is complaining about a teacher or unfair homework assignment I find that most parents immediately try to ‘fix’ the problem.  Before even going there, just empathize with your child or teen.  Let them tell, explore and dump everything they are feeling about it…you might find ‘the problem’ does not need to be solved or the teen can do it themselves.

4. Don’t try to teach a lesson

No matter what do not talk about your own childhood, a broader lesson or the ‘take-home’ point.  There probably is one, but we do not want to hear it when we are venting.

5. Look for the emotional anchor

I use the word emotional anchor when I mentor because usually there is an emotion behind a problem that is really causing everything else. Try to find what it is.  If there is a fight between friends, is the emotional anchor really about jealousy.  If there is bad feelings with a boyfriend is the emotional anchor insecurity.  If there is a problem with a teacher is the feeling injustice? Talk to them about emotional anchors and then shift the problem away from the current events, and more about the feeling.

6. Deflect and Mirror

It is really important to let them hear the words they are saying by saying them back to them.  Show them empathy, do not underplay or overplay, just replay so they can feel their same level of emotions back.  It is actually really rare for teens to have someone do this to them and I have used it with great success.

At the end of all of this, they may actually ask you for advice:

“What would you do?”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Do you have any advice?”

If they ask you, you have free range to give them advice, but ONLY if they ask.  (If they do not ask right away, keep tight lips, they might come back later and ask).  If you do this, they are more likely to come to you again with problems or when they are upset and this is critical to your relationship.

If you like this article, read our other Radical Parenting Articles.  If you are really inspired, think about taking the Radical Parenting Pledge..are you radical enough?

No Responses to “6 Ways to Be a Parental Sounding Board”

  1. Sarah Newton
    September 8, 2008 at 10:04 am #

    Great post. I will be sharing as we speak.



  2. Dean Roy
    September 8, 2008 at 2:50 pm #

    The item that jumped out to me was number 3 – Don’t Try to Fix the Problem. I agree that this is no way to empathize (good for every type of relationship).

    But do you think this is more of a problem from the perspective of raising “resilient” young people?

  3. Vanessa
    September 9, 2008 at 3:39 pm #

    I think resiliency is a great point. I think that most teens do know what they need to do o fix a problem and if parents jump in too quickly, they never learn they can.


  1. Listening To Your Kids « The MindOH! Blog - September 8, 2008

    […] To Your Kids This is another great one from Vanessa Van Petten: 6 Ways to Be a Parental Sounding Board. Vanessa offers excellent advice for interacting and listening to your kids, particularly those […]

  2. Manorexia: Teen Boys and Body Image - October 30, 2008

    […] bringing this trend up and seeing what they say.  Are the shocked? Confused? Grossed-out? Be a parental sounding board and keep the communication lines […]

Leave a Reply