Parents of adolescents are highly skilled at a phenomenon known as the ‘fix-it’ syndrome. 

It goes a bit like this:

Your tween/teen/young adult comes to you with a problem. For this post, let’s say your adolescent is beginning a new school and they’re (understandably) a bit nervous. You have a brief listen and jump in with a solution that you think is perfect. You throw a bunch of suggestions at them, including:

  • I remember being nervous too. Just take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. You’ll be ok.
  • Hang out with your friends. They’ll all be feeling the same way too. 
  • Let’s go out for ice cream to celebrate when you get home from school that day.

Time passes, and the new school day arrives. Your adolescent is so nervous they look like they’ll throw up. You drop them off with a friendly reminder of how much you love them. That afternoon they don’t want to go out for ice-cream. When you follow up with them with a friendly, “How was school …” intended to be a conversational opening, you are met with a shrug of their shoulders and some muttered words. 

You write it off as ‘teens’ while they write you off as ‘sucks.’

Sound familiar? 

It’s a scenario playing out in households all around you, maybe even in your household too.

What went Wrong?

It’s called the ‘fix-it’ scenario. 

We’re the parent. We have the knowledge that will solve the problem. And that’s where we go. We tell them what we think they should do. 

It’s well-intentioned. We want the very best for our young people.

But, it’s missing something important. 

We are pausing to listen so we can reply. We nod as we take the words into our ears. Then we reply. 

And that’s the problem. We’ve listened to reply. 

Our young people need us to listen to understand. 

I’ll repeat that for emphasis, and make it bold! Our young people need us to listen to them so we can understand them.

When we skip from ‘listening to understand’ to ‘listening to reply’ we miss out on the opportunity to be empathetic and compassionate with our adolescents. We don’t get to hang out in their shoes, feeling what the world looks like through their eyes.

Instead, we skip straight over this golden opportunity and end up in the space of “should.” As in, you “should” do this, that, or whatever I think. 

It’s a problem because:

  1. We’re blowing a precious opportunity to walk alongside our rangatahi
  2. We’re trying to solve a real-world, real-time problem with thinking that may have been useful when we were a teen. The world has moved on. It’s not so useful today. Parental solutions, while guided by experience, aren’t always the best solution. 
  3. We lose a chance to guide our teen to grow their problem-solving muscles. Problem-solving is a complex skill. It won’t appear magically overnight. Our young people will be facing increasingly difficult problems – equipping them with top-notch problem-solving skills is doing them a massive favour.  

How do I fix it?

  1. Be aware of what’s going on. When you spend time reflecting on your days you have a much better chance of picking up on missed opportunities.
  2. Make time to talk with your young person. Be unhurried and give them your full attention.
  3. Zip your mouth. Now is the time to listen, not talk. When you do speak, ask them a question to keep the conversation going. 
  4. After you’ve listened to their problem, ask them what they think would be a solution. “How do you think you could handle this?” Repeat the process of listening.

Okay, it’s your turn. How will you begin to make changes in your communication style? Hint: if your immediate answer wasn’t, “I’ll take a breath before I answer,” use this link to start your change process.