By Barbara Moon
Do you ever find yourself getting caught up in arguments with your teen? You see a situation one way; your teen sees it another. Disagreements are common and very frustrating. Arguing doesn’t feel good. We either want to escalate the negative emotions or run out the door, likely slamming it on the way out. If we can learn to see our teen’s perspective, we might find the road less bumpy. There is a relational brain skill that can help. We call it synchronizing.
Share Energy with Your Teen
Synchronizing with another person takes place when we share the same energy level together. We are on the same wave length, seeing life the way they see it. The energy we are sharing is joy (glad to be together), peace (quiet), or distress (negative emotions).
We can share different energy levels of joy. For example high joy is when we share fun things, excitement, laughter, or lots of smiles. A quiet level of being glad to be together might be sitting together on the deck, watching a camp fire, or quietly scratching our teen’s back.
Peace is when we share that all is as it should be, there’s no conflict; all is well. The Bible calls this “Shalom.” These energy levels are usually easy to share. So what happens when distress arises? What is it we share then?
What About Distress?
In distress we share the moment by staying calm so that we can hear what our teen’s heart is trying to tell us. Most of us are accustomed to avoiding painful emotions. That’s when we yell louder or we run away. Neither helps our teen. We don’t get angry because they are angry; we don’t try to fix their frustration; we don’t lecture, correct, or condemn. We share by staying together and working through the disagreement.
Sometimes during distress we have to take a break and get our relational circuits on before working through a disagreement. Taking a break is not the same as running away. After a break we are going to get back together and work through it because the relationship is more important than the problem. Some problems will resolve when a teen feels heard and understood. Some problems might need help from a third face.
Different Levels of Energy
Life with a teen requires different levels of synchronizing. When our teen is low energy—quiet, subdued, or occupied, we want to approach them with that same level of energy. It’s helpful to go to where they are versus yelling their name to get their attention. When we approach our teen who is quiet or occupied, our voice tone should be soft and inquiring. “Do you have a moment?” Can we talk for a minute?” Synchronizing notices the other person and what’s going on with them.
Synchronizing is Unselfish
When our brain knows how to synchronize, we will notice our teen’s face and body language before engaging with him or her. Our teen will feel loved, accepted, and understood. They are less likely to feel that we are pushing ourselves or an agenda onto them. It’s helpful to notice the energy level when our teens return home. Are they up for a hug and chatter? Do they need time to unwind? Are they down because they’re having a bad day? Is the energy level higher because they are excited to share something from their day? Synchronizing is very unselfish. Sharing like this is done best face-to-face, communicating with eyes that light up, welcoming body language, and kind voice tone. Dr. Wilder says that synchronizing is like good music—right timing, right intensity, and right tone. Picture synchronized swimming in the Olympics. Picture dancing, or playing in an orchestra.
Failure to Synchronize
Failure to synchronize is the opposite of harmony in an orchestra. It feels like the discord of an untuned guitar—bad timing, bad intensity, and bad tone. Interrupting, blasting, or jumping on someone is not synchronizing. Badgering a teen to get our point across is not synchronizing.
Not synchronizing is painful, so we want to practice and get good at this skill. When we forget to synchronize, teens can feel misunderstood. If failure to synchronize accumulates over time they could even feel unloved, alone, afraid, or unwanted. These feelings undermine relationships and we need help and healing for these kinds of hurts
It’s easy to forget to synchronize and it’s easy to get preoccupied and just not notice where our teen is coming from at the moment, but with our hearts teachable, humble, and attuned with God we can practice this relational brain skill that will smooth over some of the bumpy parts of life with our teens.
For more tips and stories about parenting teens, see my book, Joy-Filled Parenting with Teens: Hopeful Stories for Successful Relationships.