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Back to School Blues

Clair Mellenthin’s interview on Fresh Living on KUTV.

Follow the link: https://kutv.com/features/fresh-living/clair-mellenthin-back-to-school-blues

 

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Have a Conversation

Have you ever had a conversation where you just needed to vent? You just needed to get out all the pent-up frustration, anger, disappointment (whatever emotion that you were feeling at the time out), and the person that you were talking to immediately started telling you how to “fix” the problem? How were you feeling in that moment? Heard? Validated? Or the opposite?

Recently, my 17-year-old came in grumbling and lamenting about the struggles of high school existence. I listened for a bit, commiserated on how terrible small-town living is (sarcasm), and offered really “helpful” suggestions. Cue the eye-roll! Yep, I fell into the “fix-it” pattern; it’s ingrained. We are a society of “fixers.” We want to listen to an issue, come up with a few reasonable alternatives and fix the issue. But what happens if there isn’t a solution? Or, really a problem to be fixed?

The “fix it” trap is a very common style of miscommunication within couples and families. Wait…miscommunication? They’re talking about an issue and the other person is trying to help them with it, how is that miscommunication? The miscommunication happens when the intent of the speaker and the intent of the listener don’t match up. You might be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to know what my spouse/child/friend wants or needs out of a conversation? I’m not a mind reader!” My response is simple, yet really difficult for many of us because it’s something completely different from our typical pattern…ask. You read that right, just ask the person what they want or need from the conversation.

During the exchange with my child, after seeing the eye-roll and hearing the frustrated huffing and puffing, I knew that I had not given them what they needed from me. However, I didn’t want to make an incorrect assumption, again, so I simply apologized and asked, “I’m sorry, how can I help you right now? Is this something you need to talk about or something that you need help figuring out?” Now, I know that people are going to read this and say to themselves, “I try asking my child/spouse/ friend what they need and they just get mad!” Yep! The pattern is ingrained in the other direction as well. Sometimes the speaker may not even realize that they aren’t seeking a solution, but an opportunity to talk. What are you supposed to do then? Listen.

Take the time to really listen to what the person is saying, validating his/ her experience (even if you don’t agree), ask some questions to clarify to make sure that you are truly understanding, and empathize with what’s happening. Giving the person your undivided attention will give you (and the other person) the opportunity the truly ascertain what’s needed from the conversation. Go talk!

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Let’s Put the Phone Away and Talk!

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It seems that teens are tethered to their phones and they are reliant on them to help them navigate the world. As parents, we look back and wonder how in the world the kids of today would have survived without the buffer of social media. Would they be able to function if they had to speak face-to-face and have regular interpersonal communications without the crutch of a phone, ipad, or computer? Modern teens have grown up in a world where the technological advances of phones and other devices is constantly evolving. Phones and computers are made more intuitive to anticipate the user’s next move, and there seems to be an app for everything. The world is at our fingertips, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days per year. However, with all of these advances in communication, parents and teens still complain that they don’t communicate or understand one another. Why?

Parents say that kids today just don’t know how to carry on conversations or talk to one another without a phone in their hand, and even then, they don’t talk. Look around next time you are somewhere that has a mix of both teens and adults and observe what you see. Is it just the teens on their phones, or are the parents on theirs too? Guess what parents? We are part of the problem! We are using our electronic devices to avoid in-person communication, too. It’s a lot easier to sit and scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or watch a funny video or a Snap than it is to carry on a conversation with an acquaintance.We have become device dependent., and our kids are learning by watching us.

“But, I need to just check this email from work really quick!”

“But, I need to send off this text really quick before I forget.”

“But, I’m using social media to communicate with my kids.”

Obviously, these are all good reasons to use our devices. Life in our world relies on technology, but what is it costing us in our relationships? How can we strengthen relationships and communication with teens in the environment of social media?

Turn It Off

Actively unplug, take the devices off the table, literally, if even for just a few minutes. Eat a meal together, take a walk, hike your favorite trail, anything that enables conversations to happen organically. Giving your child your undivided attention lets them know that they are a priority to you.

Create Opportunities For Connection

Make space for a conversation to happen. Teens are faced with a lot of internal and external pressures, so they need a safe space, emotionally and physically, to vent their stress and frustrations. Teens are learning to self-regulate their feelings and parental support can bolster their efforts by validating what they are feeling.

Listen To Your Children

Don’t just hear them, but really listen to them. Sounds easy right? We are surrounded by sounds, but how often do we really listen? Listening takes practice; it is a skill. We often want to “fix” the problem, but often times advice isn’t the answer. They aren’t asking for the solution, they are asking for us to listen to their struggles. They are asking us to see them as capable of finding their own solutions and supporting them in trying.

So, let’s all put our phones away for a while and talk!

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