Even trying to get a teenager to sit down and listen, let alone discuss, can often be next to impossible. But, in his excellent new book ‘Engaging Adolescents’, psychologist Michael Hawton says the rushed ‘drive-by’ conversations stressed parents have with their teens can be counter-productive.
Young adults need, says Hawton, to be given the opportunity to learn to problem solve and negotiate and, to facilitate this, the adults in their lives need to commit to having those important conversations, without being in the vice grip of emotions that can derail the communication.
Among Hawton’s tips are PASTA for teenagers:
P is for ‘prepare’:
Plan what you’re going to say and write down some of your thoughts on paper. The preparation involves being clear about what you want to change, what you’re willing to be negotiable about, what your bottom lines are and what will happen if you can’t work things out.
A is for ‘appointment’:
Arrange a time and place to meet. This means that there is a specific time set aside to ensure that the conversation isn’t rushed. By setting up an appointment with your teenager, you’re not only formalising matters, but are also less likely to see the discussion flare up.
S is for ‘say’:
Say something positive; say what the problem is; say what you want to happen. Start by saying something positive and something good about them. If you’re too cross for that to sound real, then make a comment about being on ‘the same page’ with them about something. Then say what the problem is. Use words like ‘I have noticed’ and ‘I’m seeing’, which will put distance between you and the behaviour. By describing things in this way, you are less likely to fall into the trap of blaming your teen (which will make them defensive). Then say what you want from them. By writing out what you want beforehand, you’re less likely to be unrealistic in your demands.
T is for ‘tame the tiger’:
As you are moving through the ‘say’ parts of PASTA, chances are that your teenager will interrupt you. They may want to dispute your versions of events or minimise what you’re saying. Taming the tiger is the part of PASTA where you get to deal with interruptions. Remember, while you may be incredibly interested in wanting to solve a problem, they won’t be. If your teen becomes upset or angry, it may be time to ‘down tools’ on the ‘say’ part and reset the conversation. You can do this by listening for the emotion in their presentation to you – paying attention to their frustration, anger or dismay, then treating those feelings (even if they’re partly directed at you) as information or data. If you don’t see it as an attack (but data), you can then make a choice to engage with them in a different way. You can acknowledge what they are feeling.
A is for ‘agree’:
The final part of PASTA is where you sum up your understanding of what you are agreeing about and how your teen will meet certain agreed upon behaviours within a certain time frame. Ending with a mutual agreement is an important part of summing up and finalising the conversation. It leaves both you and your teen with a clear understanding of what is expected.
PASTA gives parents a series of statements that they can make to help their teenager calm down and helps to demonstrate a process for teenagers that shows them how ‘mature’ people negotiate. It also gives young people a safe place to express their frustrations, but is also a process where they can be taught to exert self-control.