I’m currently working with several young adults aged between 13 and 16. I call them young adults because they change rapidly before our eyes into just that, and we have to accept that they might want more independence, crave more privacy, and like to be shown a high level of respect, while perhaps highly critical of you, their caregivers.
You yourself might have noticed that young adults are more emotional and ‘touchier’ than when they were younger. Perhaps you also noticed that they become resentful and uncooperative quickly if they believe that they are at all trapped or coerced into agreements with you. Also, have you noticed that they know in their bones when you are tired, worried, or busy with other tasks, and that is when they often choose to refuse to work, have an argument with you or a tantrum, or quietly stop keeping the agreements they had made with you.
In my experience as a teacher, it can take time and care to get the trust of young adults. They are reluctant to practice basic skills they never mastered when they were young and all of them at some point have refused to work with their parents. I also found that they didn’t take my word for much and would only use strategies that they personally believed worked. Does any of this sound like your teen (young adult)?
Often parents bring their young adult to me for different reasons. Usually they are concerned about their young adult’s poor results and low levels of skill in some subjects. They might no longer know how to communicate with them about their school-work without their young adult shutting them out. Sometimes they are worried about the level of stress their young adult imposes on themselves to get good grades, and sometimes they are worried about their lack of effort.
If you are worried about your teen, be brave and plan to rock the family boat now. It becomes more difficult to influence your young adult’s behaviour when they leave home, so act now while you still hold most of the purse strings and create consequences that immediately affect your young adult. Sit down and take your time quite calmly and coolly, as a good general does before battle, to decide which behaviours your young adult needs to develop so that they mature into independent young adults with strong values, subject skills, and a good work ethic.
Your role is to help them study in a calm, focussed, and optimistic way. I suggest that developing inspiring goals with them and creating steady study routines and consequences will help them achieve those goals. Easier said than done you might say. I agree! Here are my best tips on how you can successfully negotiate with your young adult so that they can succeed more easily at school.
- Listen with an open heart first to understand them before you speak. Remember the feeling of powerlessness you felt when others made important decisions that affected you, without consulting with you. I believe that we have all experienced moments of powerlessness like this. It is crucial when developing a trusting relationship with your young adults to listen closely to them as though you are hearing what they are telling you for the first time. A certain amount of humility, a big dollop of patience, total concentration while listening, and keeping silent until they are finished, are your best tools. Perhaps if you listen to understand them without judgement, then together you will be able to make a study agreement that they will keep.
- Carefully decide what your ‘bottom lines’ are before you negotiate. Your ‘bottom lines’ are the non-negotiable goals you have for them, and any crucially important actions to reach those goals. Be clear about exactly what you expect and hold firmly onto those ‘bottom lines’ as you negotiate, and then negotiations will seldom get ‘derailed’ for long. ‘Derailing’ is when they suddenly and unexpectedly divert you into another topic, and so away from a topic that they don’t want discussed.
- Remember what you want from the negotiation, whatever happens during it. To help you stay ‘on track’ write down exactly what you want from that negotiation. Write down what is not negotiable (your bottom line) and what is negotiable (where your young adult has ‘wriggle room’ to negotiate something more favourable for themselves).
- There is no hurry. Negotiations with them can take as long as needed. To help speed up the process though, when nothing has been decided yet, any positive consequences attached to the negotiations are suspended until they are completed. This will encourage them to continue negotiations with you as soon as possible so that they have access to those positive consequences.
- Keep the time you are talking with your young adult brief. They will pay closer attention to what you say. Have you noticed that some adults talk too long on subjects they find important? I think we all do this at times, often without realising we have, and especially when we are enthusiastic or concerned about something. If you talk too long to your young adult they might use a few useful strategies that you too are familiar with, to manage their boredom or frustration while you are talking.
- The ‘switch off’ is the most common and politest strategy we use. This is when your young adult will seem to be listening attentively, while they have stopped listening to you and began to think about something else. I have often been fooled when a student uses this strategy on me. They look so convincingly attentive that I can still take time to notice that they have ‘switched off’. Your young adult ‘switches off’ for what they believe are very good reasons. Perhaps they have heard it all before, feel uncomfortable with your intense and emotional tone, or do not want to listen because they don’t agree with you, feel blamed by you, or just don’t want to do what you want them to. I believe that we have all been guilty of this behaviour at times when faced with an overly enthusiastic friend or family member.
It’s business-time! Keep all your explanations brief, business-like, and respectful. For negotiations to be successful you must create a situation where your young adult can stay comfortable and alert enough to listen closely to you. Use short and simple sentences, speak slowly, speak briefly, and keep any of your positive or negative emotions out of the room as much as you can.
- Speak in short sentences, and speak slowly in a low, quiet, businesslike voice.
- Pause briefly between sentences.
- Check in at times to see if they agree or disagree with you.
- When they seem easily distracted, regularly check that they have understood you. You might ask them to repeat your main ideas, and then briefly and in a neutral business-like manner repeat any information they might not have heard, understood, or remembered. Then check again that they have understood and remembered what you have said. Repeat again if necessary.
- Don’t stare in their eyes, stand higher than them, or stand or sit very close to them. That can feel threatening and too personal for them. Instead, position yourself so that you can glance at or towards them occasionally, and sit or stand about a metre from them, and at or near their height.
I hope that you have found some useful tips here to use when working with you’re your adults. Check out my other posts on how to work with your young adults.
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