5 Tips for Parenting the “Digital Age” Teen

In recent years, the emotional and mental well-being of today’s teens has been a hot topic — and for good reason. In this digital age, teens are dealing with new stressors that are likely unfamiliar and therefore challenging for parents to address. Debbie Reber, host of the TiLT Parenting podcast, sat down with clinical psychologist Dr. John Duffy to discuss his book, Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety.

Here we’ll break down Dr. Duffy’s perspective on the “emotional bank account” – a concept that he was first introduced to in psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence.

Balancing your emotional bank account with your teen

According to Dr. Duffy, every relationship we have carries an emotional bank account, and each interaction can change the balance of the account you share with your teen. Positive encounters, or ones that demonstrate your support and are free from judgment, will inspire future conversations with your teen and keep your emotional bank account “in the black.”

However, if your emotional bank account with your teen is “in the red,” there is always time to reset. Here are five tips for getting back in the black, and staying there:

  1. Set assumptions aside, and stay curious to uncover the root causes of your child’s behavior
    Picture your child’s day at school, says Dr. Duffy. Today’s teenagers are bombarded with stimuli and “noise” from all angles — whether from their devices, demanding academics, world news, social pressures, or other additional stressors. If a child is presenting as stubborn or sassy, that behavior could mean that they’ve reached the end of their emotional bandwidth.

    Instead of making judgments or assessments about their behavior, ask repeated questions: Why? What do you mean by that? Spend time letting your child talk, instead of talking at them. “The more you understand, and the more [your child] knows that you are curious and interested and still have positive regard for them, that bank account’s in the black,” Dr. Duffy says.

  2. Develop reciprocal trust, and give your teen a safe space to communicate
    Cultivate trust with your child by resisting the temptation to micromanage. Refrain from reaching out to their teachers and coaches, checking in on their academic portals, tracking their technology — “anything that says, ‘I don’t know if you’ve got this,’” says Dr. Duffy.

    When the emotional bank account between parent and teen is low, the child may retreat to their room — and look to their friends to play “de facto therapist,” over text and social media. Put a deposit in the emotional bank account by letting your child know that, even if they have difficult things to say, you will listen with an open mind.

  3. Hit “reset” on your parenting tactics if trust is waning
    “The emotional bank account is super malleable,” Dr. Duffy says. “You can move from red to black in the course of an hour.”

    Remember, there is always time to reset. First, acknowledge instances when there were communication breakdowns, the role you each played in those moments, and then agree to continue to grow and find solutions together. These conversations require vulnerability on the parent’s part, and a desire to truly listen.

    Aim to create conversations that are on equal terms and resist any inclination to lecture. Though worrying about your teen is natural and shows that you care, it’s important to keep in mind that your own stress may compound your teen’s anxiety. Rather than share your stress with your teen, Dr. Duffy advises parents to bring their concerns to others, such as partners or therapists.

  4. Cultivate a calm household environment
    Too often, teens tell Dr. Duffy that the moment they cross the threshold to their home, they don’t feel enveloped in a safe and comforting environment — and may instead feel an instant atmosphere of interrogation or conflict. Their impulse, therefore, is to shut themselves away and surround themselves with digital “noise.”

    Developing minds need the “refueling, rejuvenating and regulating” influence of a sanctuary away from the noise. Consider playing soft music in the home, turning off the TV, and avoiding conflict right when family members walk in the door — and you will be a model to your teen on how to cultivate a calm environment for emotional self-regulation.

  5. Be gentle with yourself
    Acknowledge your areas for improvement — but give yourself credit for your successes! Spend just as much time reflecting on your parenting highlights as you do on your shortcomings, and you’ll feel rejuvenated.

Go here to listen to the full TiLT Parenting episode with Dr. John Duffy to learn more about his perspective on parenting teens today.

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