Can I encourage you?

If there is one thing I have learned about teens and tweens it is: that there is nothing they  hate more than being nagged. Nobody likes being told what to do; least of all a teenager. A nagging parent is like an annoying drone in the background of your favourite song. No matter how much you want to enjoy the music, the irritation of a background buzz is enough to make you snap in frustration, turn it off in defiance or choose to quietly tune out. Whatever the response, the end result is the same: enjoyment is killed and the avenue for communication is closed.

Similarly, there is nothing more time-consuming, frustrating and exhausting than being the one to nag. Not only do you spend precious energy on a losing battle, you begin to undermine a good relationship . Your subtle message is: “I am worried about the choices you are making. I want to control the choices you make, so that you avoid the consequences. I want you to do exactly what I am asking you to do.” While we may not say this explicitly, our nagging can reveal a deeper conflict within ourselves. A conflict between our care/concern and our need to control. We take on the responsibility of getting action, forgetting that for them to accept responsibility, we need to step back.

“Can I encourage you…?” These are four golden words I have adopted to preface any advice I wish to give; replacing my nagging requests. If said at a suitable interlude, (preferably when they are not connected to a device and are sure of their attention) this simple phrase can be received as a gentle reminder, rather than a demand. However, it is important to let your encouragement to be just that, an encouragement. Your encouragement to do something, communicates what you believe in your experience to be wisdom, however, what you say or do next will determine whether they will choose to listen. 

The past 2 weeks in my home have been school holidays. For my 16 year old, it was the perfect time to maximise 12 hour straight gaming opportunities. Emerging only from his room for food…and even that was a rare outing. I half joked to visitors that he was a rare species and catching a glimpse of him was a special treat (he too found the humour in this). Long gone are the days when I could insist on 1 hour screen time, and then send kids outside to play. Yet, I still believe it important to have a balance between seated/screen time and physical activity. Each morning, when I touched base with him about what he hoped to do in the day, I would say, “Can I encourage you to go for a 1/2 hour run today.” Some days he didn’t, but other days he did. On those days, he was always keen to share with me that he’d taken my advice. While there were more days that he chose to be slothful (and boy did I find it hard not to say anything) by the end of the holidays our relationship was still intact and there was harmony in the home.

Allowing our growing children to begin making their own decisions, and respecting their choice even if it is different to our own, is important. Not only does it promote healthy independence, it promotes a healthy parent/child relationship. Respect is fundamental to all good relationships. If you can show respect to your teen (modelling what healthy adult relationships look like), even when they may not show respect in return, then you are winning. Other phrases that can be helpful in giving gentle guidance without pressure are: “Would you like me to remind you?” “Can I offer you some advice?” Both of these questions respectfully ask permission to be allowed to guide. They may say, “No!”, but they may say, “Yes!”. 

Beginning to step back from micro-managing your teen will be difficult at first, especially if you’ve been a very attentive, hands-on parent. Transitioning from being the one to set and enforce boundaries to being the side-line encouragement  requires practice and discipline. But the benefits to both yourself and child are great. So…”Can I encourage you?”


Photo by: Britt-knee