I often start therapy with just the young man or woman, because I want to make sure they have a chance to voice what "their truth," is. Because I believe empathy is the key ingredient to change, not counsel or advice, I focus on it exclusively in the first sessions. I want to know what it's like to be that kid. What is he really going through? What emotions are there? What events has he experienced leading him to this point? Does he have secrets he needs to disclose? And so on.
Having done this over and over for years, I have learned a few things about young adults, teenagers, and even young kids and their relationships with their parents. What I have learned is that parents, with the greatest and honestly most noble of intentions, are creating a massive amount of resentment in the child towards the parent. There are a few reasons I will discuss in future posts, so I will start with this big topic.
Parents give way too much advice.
Yes, too much advice. Here is a good analogy to ponder...How did you teach your child to walk? You might be saying...I didn't teach my kid to walk...well yes you did. You did teach them, but you taught them differently than you're teaching them now. What you did then was give them a safe place to "try and experience themselves." You knew they couldn't understand your advice, so you had to let them learn on their own. You took away stairs, cement, sharp objects (hopefully), etc, and let them just go for it. You encouraged them with your emotional support, clapping, and excitement. At around one year of age, your non-verbal, poop-monster, and cutest little devil you've ever seen, learned to walk...on their own. So what's the point of my analogy?
Learning by experience is such a vital aspect of development. We need it and yearn for it actually. Learning through experience creates character that not only allows, but invites failure, self-reflection, wisdom, goal directed persistence, focus, and acceptance of newer and more challenging experiences. On the other hand, a child or person for that matter that is "performing" the advice given to them, often becomes overwhelmed, resentful, and anxious (performance anxiety). They often gain a powerful sense of learned helplessness and lack the confidence to attempt a new challenge completely on their own. Their focus can become perfection (executing the advice given), rather than exploration (focus on growth and learning through mistakes and mastery).
I often talk about the message within the message with parents I work with. The message within the message principle is the idea that what we say or give advice about has implicit messages that are internalized over time by the receiver. For example, a parent who is constantly advising their chid about school could be relaying the message that 'I think your dumb,' 'I think you're incapable of succeeding on your own,' 'Grades matter more than anything,' etc. Anther example of a parent who might be constantly pushing their child to go on a mission could be relaying the message that 'I can't handle it if you don't go,' 'The mission is more important than your readiness,' and many more. It's precisely these hidden messages that infiltrate the minds of young people, powerfully influencing them to hate the giver of the message and often themselves.
I'm not saying advice is something we should avoid all the time, but what I am saying is that advice is often given without consent. Advising anyone without asking their permission is often a way of control and objectifying that person...you're talking at me rather than with me.
What I am saying is that our children are far more capable than we often let them be. They are capable of learning from their mistakes. They are capable of turning to parents after they struggle and ask for direction. They are capable of becoming great, but need to fail to get there. As parents, we have to overcome our anxiety and fear about letting our kids struggle and fail. It's okay. They need to fail. They need to learn that failure is actually the pathway to success, and that success is not the pathway to never fail.
So...instead of focusing on advice, when your child has struggles or isn't doing something as efficiently as you would do it, try and ask questions focused on their work ethic, ability and strength to learn. Put the responsibility back on them, rather than taking it yourself. A kid seeking advice could be told, "I know you can figure it out...keep trying and if you still struggle, let me know." OR "Hey bud, just letting you know I would love to help you if you need it, but if not I know you can figure it out." OR "What do you think is the best way...okay...go and try that out and see." Parents, you can also take accountability for it to your child. It's actually very refreshing for teenagers to hear their parent say sorry and commit to trying to do a little better.
My last thought is this. Someone who receives too much advice is most often hearing that they are trusted to be able to do things on their own. It's like the micromanaging boss, and the employee who just wants to be able to express his personality in his work.
Hope this helped. Best, Shayden