I got this question today: “Jesus, I need to talk to my teen about keeping her word and her responsibilities. I want to talk to her in a way that brings change instead of her blowing me off as a bossy mom. We have a good relationship, but she gets very defensive when I try to correct her. What should I do?”
(You can send me your own questions to email@example.com)
I get the question of ‘persuading teens’ every now and then, even if most people still don’t like the term ‘persuasion’. It’s important to remember that there is a critical difference between persuasion and manipulation, but if you still are confused as to how to make a teen actually listen to you, here’s how.
Now, here’s the first caveat: Before moving forward, you must make sure you are not the “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of parent. And you got to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about this. Because kids and teens have been watching you for years, and will absolutely not listen or maybe even care about any suggestion, directive or lesson that you don’t enforce yourself. You have been warned!
Before you persuade or convince a defensive teenager: follow these steps first!
Now, having said that, there is POWER in NOT enforcing a ‘perfect’ behavior in yourself all the time.
In other words, the secret ingredient to what you’ll learn today is your own flaws, mistakes and blunders. Those are golden, and let me explain how are you going to use them:
From now on, and at least once a week, you’re going to talk to your kid, or teen, privately. If you have more than one son or daughter, make sure it’s one at a time and make sure that it’s an one-on-one conversation.
You’re going to pick ONE of the following:
- A personal flaw that you’re working on to fix and has been specially stubborn and you’re a bit ashamed about it,
- An embarrassing anecdote that happened to you at any point of your life and (this is important!) it was the product of you purposefully misbehaving or effing up things because you were a rebel,
- A personal struggle with your work, or something that has to be fixed at home, and you are not sure how to do it
The idea is that you’re going to pick one of the previous items, making sure that it fits the current maturity of your kid or teen. For example, if you pick number 2 when talking to a teen, your ’embarrassing anecdote’ should be about your teenage years or later.
If you pick number 3 to speak to a toddler, it could be that you need help with the right order to add ingredients to a salad (something really easy and not difficult in the least).
If you pick number 1 and you’re going to talk to them about an addiction that you’re fighting, maybe it would be a good idea to wait until they’re in the later teenage years to touch these topics. Your mileage may vary.
The idea is to fit the gravitas of the item you pick to the maturity of the kid / teen you want to talk to. Makes sense?
Now, it is not only about talking to them about you and your struggles. You’re going to ask them:
- What do they think about it,
- What do they consider to be the right behavior, and
- Important! if they have any suggestions for you.
TIP: If they sense this is odd (and most probably they will, if you have never done this with them), they could ask “Why are you asking me these questions?” or “Why are you asking me this?”
Just answer, “I just want to know what you think”, or something like this. Don’t overcomplicate this answer. Then shut up and wait for their reaction before moving on.
Ok, I’m doing all this… what does this have to do with talking and persuading my teenager?
What you want with this kind of conversations in the ‘opposite’ directions (you exposing your own flaws and shortcomings and asking THEM for recommendations and suggestions), you are doing three things at the same time:
- You acknowledge that you’re human and have flaws (it is a source of frustration of anxiety for teenagers to live with parents that judge themselves as too perfect, which is quite common. That breaks any empathy you want to build with your sons and daughters)
- You signal that you value their opinion and feedback, that it’s important to you, and that will build their self-confidence.
But the best perk is the third one: They will reflect on what is the ‘right’ behavior in situations that are not directly related to themselves, so they can relax.
The main issue of trying to ‘correct’ teenager behavior is that it’s an action that you want to impose on them. “This is the right way to do it!”, and it will usually create resistance on them, even more so if you don’t enforce the lesson on yourself.
In those conflicting situations, there is no reflection inside the teenager’s mind because all they can think of is to resist your commands, look a way to defend themselves, or even counterattack with arguments or worse yet, completely withdrawing.
So, you want them to reflect, learn and consider the right behaviors but for that, you need to take them OUT of the equation first. You can’t make them this about them… YET.
That’s why you make a habit out of sharing with them any of the 3 items listed above, so they can help you with your own struggles and they reflect about ‘good behavior’, without having a finger pointed at them.
But Jesus, I have never done this and I need to URGENTLY talk to them about an issue right now! what can I do?
No problem! if you have never, ever talked to them about your own flaws and struggles and much less asked them about their opinion, there is still a way to use this technique right out of the gate, even for a critical and urgent matter.
But this takes A LOT of gall from you, as you have to take THE MOST embarrassing or dark anecdote you had, the worst blunder, the worst time you were stubborn about something and completely screwed it, and expose yourself fully about that.
IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Remember that it’s CRITICAL that the anecdote that you pick matches the maturity of your teen. If you go overboard you risk comparing apples to oranges and fumbling the effect of the process. Let’s say that you’re not going to compare shoplifting a $10 bracelet to selling military secrets to enemy countries!
IMPORTANT NOTE 2: The anecdote that you pick must match the lesson you want your teen to understand as close as possible. For example, if you want her to be a better judge of the people she hangs out with, your anecdote should be about a time when your poor judgment about the people you hung out with ended very bad for you.
Again, ask them about their opinion, and what do they think you should have done instead. Then segue from that conversation into your worries about them committing your own mistakes.
IMPORTANT NOTE 3: I was about to write “your own ‘stupid’ mistakes”, but that would be a mistake in itself. Don’t qualify your past mistakes as ‘stupid’, because it would be like judging your past self as stupid, right? Be kind to yourself always, especially this time.
TL;DR To persuade or convince a teen of the right behavior, first you must nurture an open conversation about what do they think it’s the right behavior in scenarios that involve yourself. That way you use a mirroring technique so they remember their own words the moment they will be going through similar circumstances – and remember how you trusted their words and their judgment.
Remember that if you want to share this for others, you can find it on my blog!
And again, if you have any feedback or comment about your own experience, it would be great if you write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, if you still haven’t done so, it would be great if you can help me rebuild my Instagram account following me there!
Much Love and Bliss,
The Body Language Guy.
P.S. This is one of the topics I’ll cover on my upcoming webinar “How To Convince Anybody of Anything”, exclusively for my Masterclass Members. To Join my Masterclass, go here: https://knesix.com/masterclass