100% Acceptance, 0% Blame, and “Being a Good Parent”
Episode #6 of the course How to talk to teenagers by Andy Earle
So, you are now halfway through this course, about how to have an important parent-teen conversation, and we haven’t even covered how to tell your teenager what the topic will be! Is this an accident?
Nope. Everything we’ve talked about so far was critical for laying the groundwork and putting your teen in a receptive state. Now you are finally ready to dig into the meat of the conversation.
As you introduce the topic you want to discuss—a problem behavior—it’s important to prove to your teen that you don’t blame them for the behavior.
This will make your teenager much less defensive.
“It’s Not Your Fault”
You need to convince your teen that you don’t think the behavior in question was their fault. And if you want this to work, you need to really mean it.
It is 100% true. Whatever your teen did wasn’t their fault. As we saw in Lesson 4, your teen’s problem behavior is simply a side effect of the way their brain is wired. The behavior occurred because your teen’s hyperactive reward circuitry lit up and overpowered a weak frontal cortex. Just as we don’t blame drug addicts for relapsing or depression patients for having suicidal thoughts, you can’t blame your teen for wild behavior.
You need to be able say, “I know this isn’t your fault.”
So, blame it on your teen’s brain.
I think a metaphor works really well to communicate this idea to your teen. For instance, you might say that if your teen’s car had faulty brakes, you wouldn’t blame them for getting in an accident. Similarly, you absolutely don’t blame your teen for not being able to “step on the brakes” when tempted to do something new and exciting with friends.
It is completely natural and normal. You aren’t mad. You’re not disappointed. You aren’t blaming your teen. But you don’t feel like you would be a good parent if you didn’t talk about it. I seriously recommend practicing this part of the talk with a friend or family member before you try it with your teenager because if you do it wrong, it can sound condescending.
You need to get your tone of voice just right so it doesn’t come off like you are insulting your teen or making fun of them for not being able to handle intense situations. This absolutely must come from a place of love and acceptance.
You Don’t Have to Accept the Behavior
Removing the blame is not the same thing as approving of what happened. You can tell your teen that you don’t think the behavior was their fault while still maintaining that fixing the problem is completely your teen’s responsibility.
Make it clear that it is ultimately up to the teen to figure out how to navigate safely through this developmental phase. Like many of the ideas in the course, this might sound complicated in theory, but it’s usually very swift and simple in practice.
There are a few sub-steps and they usually go in this order:
1. I know you did ______.
2. And I’m not mad.
3. In fact, I don’t blame you at all.
4. But we still need to talk about it.
For example, you might say something like: “Now that I know how the teenage brain works, I understand this isn’t your fault. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But it is something that you need to figure out how to fix. I’m here to help in any way I can, of course. But ultimately, this is up to you.”
What you’re going to do is enlist your teen’s help in developing a plan to ensure this behavior doesn’t continue. However, before you can do this, you need to convince them that the behavior really does need to stop.
How could you possibly hope to convince your teen of this? That’s what we’ll cover in the next two lessons.
If you still think removing the blame is hard, this podcast episode featuring Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist, may be helpful for you.
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