I think one of the hardest things to figure out as a parent of a tween or teen is when to step in and when to step back, especially when you see them struggling or they aren’t making the choice that you want them to make.
And when we do step in or offer our advice, it falls on deaf ears or, worse results in an argument.
Well, my special guest today is Dr. Emily Kline.
She’s here today to talk about her new book, The School of Hard Talks: How to Have Real Conversations with Your (Almost Grown) Kids.
In this interview, Emily shares her research-backed approach that prevents power struggles and pushback and builds stronger relationships through better conversations about any topic: curfews, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, college applications, and beyond.
Let’s dive in!
What You Will Learn:
- What is motivational interviewing, and what are the benefits?
- When does it make sense to use rewards and punishments to motivate kids, and when does that not make sense?
- Why do parents get on their older kids’ nerves, and why do our teens and tweens dismiss parents’ input?
- Understand how to suppress your parental “righting reflex” – the almost irresistible urge to help by offering reassurance and advice.
- How can we help our tweens and teens navigate their decisions and dilemmas competently?
- What are some ways to handle conflict that are productive and nurture the relationship?
Where to find Dr. Emily:
Find more encouragement, wisdom, and resources:
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And here is the episode typed out!
Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.
Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.
I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.
SHERYL: Well, Emily, welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. I am super excited to have you here.
EMILY: Thank you so much for having me on. I’m excited to talk.
SHERYL: I cannot wait to talk to you about the School of Hard Talks, your latest book. And I told you I read it on the PDF version; then I got it on Kindle. And now I’ve ordered it because it is so good. And so needed for parents and caregivers that have tweens and teens.
So thank you so much for writing it. And I thought that we would launch in, and I want to hear just a little bit. Tell our listeners a little bit about your background and you personally.
EMILY: Sure. So I live in Boston, and I’m a psychologist. I’ve trained to work with both kids and adults. And I’m both a researcher and a practicing psychologist.
So the book is based on some studies I’ve done over the last five years with hundreds of families who signed up for a research study I was conducting. And then also families I saw in my practice, Boston Medical Center, a big safety net hospital in Boston.
I’m also a mom; I have two kids myself. Yeah, two younger ones. So people are free if they don’t like my book, especially to call me up in 10 years and ask how my advice works.
SHERYL: Wow, from someone who has had three tweens and teens and works with so many parents, oh my gosh, it’s just so applicable to when you’re in the trenches, parenting kids that are this age, which can be so challenging when it comes to having the hard talks. So why don’t you share with us what interested you in parent-teen communication?
EMILY: So many families that I see their kids are struggling with big, deep-end mental health issues. I’ve specialized for a long time and working with families where a young person has recently experienced an episode of psychosis.
So they may be dealing with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder episodes, or drug problems. And that was where I was first coming from when I started thinking about these families. And I found that many of the parents I saw in the clinic were so well-informed.
And our protocol when we met with the parents was to explain what was happening. And what is psychosis, and what are the symptoms? And that can be valuable.
But many of the parents I saw had already been up all night googling this stuff I needed to know, was not what do I call it? Or what is the medication or something like that? But what do I say?
And especially how do I get my kid to go to their therapy appointment, or take the medication that’s prescribed for them, or stop smoking weed, or stop hanging out with this friend who’s a bad influence, or start going to school again because they’ve just been lying around.
And those are really serious issues. But as I’ve worked with these parents, I started thinking, Okay, what do they say? How do they get their kid to do these things? It’s one thing to know; my kid should be in school. It’s hard to get them to do it when they say I won’t go.
And so when I started to work with kids and parents, what do you say to get them to go? Those parents were just amazed at sort of the approach that I was recommending. And they said, Oh, I’m using this with all my kids, not just the sick one.
So that’s kind of like where the idea of the book came from: how we approach conversations about behavior change can determine whether or not that change is likely to happen. And even though I started by working with these very sick kids, I realized that the advice could be helpful for all families.
SHERYL: I agree. And that’s one of the reasons I read your book. I was just like, oh my god, somebody’s putting this out into the world because we have big and small issues you’re talking about. But a lot of kids now they’re anxious.
Lots of kids, parents are having trouble, their kids don’t want to do chores, or maybe they do not want to go to school, or they do not want to take their medication, or they’re being bullied or all these different issues, big and small.
But we can be so fearful as parents and react out of that fear. And you discussed this in the book; fear leads us to want to control. In the book, you’re giving language and proactive things that we can do versus reacting out of that fearful place when we want to control things.
EMILY: And Mama Bear, right?
SHERYL: Have you found that when you were working with parents that it was very easy for them to get stuck in reactivity? Because they didn’t know what else to do?
EMILY: Yeah, and it’s so frustrating because it doesn’t work. And it leads to a lot of conflict. So especially when you’re dealing with something really serious, like going to school, using drugs or alcohol, these are not minor issues in the life of a teenager. These are big issues.
And if things have gone off the rails, parents are frantic, right? Every day this kid isn’t in school, they fall further behind in their education like that is a really big deal. It could not be a bigger deal.
And yet, just saying, Well, you have to go, or I’m taking away the phone, or you’re grounded if you don’t go, hasn’t necessarily worked for the families coming to see me.
So I think that when we have that strong desire to control, it’s not because we control bad people but because it matters a lot. And we care a lot. And the problem is that usually, our desire to control, as a parent, comes out punitively.
I will take something away from you unless you do what I want. Which does a couple of things like number one; it just sets you versus me dynamic, right? Where the kid isn’t thinking, what do I want? What would be good for me? It’s just about I hate my mom; I’m mad at her. And I don’t want to give in to what she wants.
And number two, it just erodes the relationship. And usually, the best influence we have with our kids is a good relationship and saying, Hey, I want you to do this; I think it will be good for you. And they trust and look up to us enough, even if they’re rolling their eyes at us. But they trust us and like us enough to say, okay, I’ll give it a shot.
SHERYL: Yes. And at this age, when I have found the more we try to control, I loved how you said it’s because we care because we love them. After all, we want the best for them. And if you have a kid that’s not going to school or smoking pot or vaping is another big one. It’s upsetting; you just want them to make a different decision.
The more we try to control, the more rebellion it, as it backfires, doesn’t it, and gets into these power struggles, and then you, as a parent, feel more despair. Like why isn’t this working? And yeah, like this big snowball rolling downhill.
EMILY: I feel that anyone who is there has been there. Even with little kids, you get into these stupid power struggles. I know I do in my house where I’ve drawn a line, and then everybody’s not thinking about what, let me just be concrete.
So it’s like, okay, I told you to get in the bath now, like this is a little kid example. Right? But that’s what’s coming to mind for me. Because my kids are little, and if I say you get in the bath now and my kid says no, no, I’m watching a movie with my friend. I don’t want to finish the movie before I bathe.
And I say no, you need to do it now. Because I said no, and it’s almost bedtime, you won’t finish the movie. And that’s okay. Right? Like, I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m not a controlling person. But we’re now just reacting to the line I’ve drawn.
Mom said, No. And I was mad that she said, No. And I’m like, Well, I said, do it, and you must learn to listen. And so we’re just reacting to the fact of the power struggle, rather than trying to just be like, Okay, what is gonna get you in this bath? I just want you to take a bath like that. Can we get this done?
SHERYL: Yeah. And so that’s so good to use that example. Because moms are listening, they’re like, oh, my gosh, I can’t get me, my middle schooler, to shower or brush their teeth. And so even with your – is it your younger son, your younger one, that doesn’t want to? So what do you do?
EMILY: Yeah, so that’s a good question. And I would recommend different things based on different ages. But let’s go to your middle schoolers because, unlike my four-year-old, your middle schoolers have more reasoning capacity, right? Like they can think things through.
So, here’s the method, and I’ll describe the theory behind what I say. And then, I’ll describe how it would play out in this situation. So the idea is to think with their whole brain instead of just reacting to this power struggle. Kids, and most people, need to feel three things: understood, confident, and in control.
Okay, and so understood means nobody’s judging me, nobody’s labeling me, and my mom gets that I’m in the middle of building something amazing on Minecraft. If I pause it, I won’t remember all the commands I need to do now. Whatever they’re in the middle of doing makes them not want to get in the bath.
So I’m giving them my nonjudgmental attention. I’m trying to understand; okay, why don’t you want to get in the shower? Number two is to feel confident, like, maybe there’s something about brushing teeth or taking a shower that’s a little overwhelming. And if I can understand that better, I can help you with it; maybe it’s like, I can’t quite reach the thing. And it’s awkward, and I don’t like doing it.
Or, I don’t like it if there’s something about the experience they’re not feeling confident about. And I want to make sure that they feel like when I say get in there and do it, they know what to do.
Number three is in control, especially with tweens and teens having intense needs to express their autonomy and have little control over their lives. It’s an important development; it’s healthy. And so sometimes they’ll say no, just to say no.
And so I don’t want to get into that power struggle, where they’re not fighting me for any reason other than to prove they can. So that’s the theory: understood, confident, and in control. There’s a ton of research behind this. It’s called self-determination theory.
And it’s really interesting. So then, okay, now we’re in the situation of this, I’ve reminded this kid three times to get in the shower, and they’re still doing Minecraft or whatever. So I might get that understood piece and say, what’s getting in the way? Do you know? Or what are you doing? I’m curious, what are you doing on on that on that Minecraft?
That’s so important, giving them little opportunity to explain themselves. And have my nonjudgmental attention to their explanation. To help them feel more confident, I would say, is there anything that would make this easier for you? How can we do it at a different time of day if I get a different kind of shampoo if we hang your towel slightly closer?
But I just want to open the conversation like, is there anything unpleasant about this or doesn’t feel feasible? The last part is feeling in control. So I want to give them a little bit of control. And what parents in my studies have told me is that it sometimes works for them to use them when the question is to offer a little bit of control. So when would be a good time for you to do this?
Give them a little control over the timing, but have that boundary in place that we will do it.
SHERYL: I love it. So what did you find in your studies? What was the outcome of that? So when they were giving them more of that control? How did it go?
EMILY: In the studies, I worked with about 130 families who signed up for this coaching in the communication technique I described. And really, the book goes into a lot of detail about motivational interviewing. So what I did was I created a very short course, motivational interviewing. And these parents signed up to take that course.
And these were all parents of teenagers and young adults, maybe a little bit older than the children of some of your listeners. But in that 14 to 30 age range, many had serious problems. But they worked with me or one of the other therapists on my team, over four or five sessions to learn this technique, like asking when or asking what’s getting in the way, or using reflections, like when somebody says, I just really hate how the water always gets cold, just to go back to our shower.
For example, instead of saying, Okay, well then, just take a shorter shower, do some reflection. Oh, so it’s so annoying when you run out of hot water. I hate that too. Right. And just kind of come up alongside?
SHERYL: Exactly. Understood. So you understand you’re joining them in; the water’s cold. I get that. Yeah. Yeah, okay.
EMILY: Yes. And so again, then when you do that, when you do that reflection, instead of arguing or pointing out why you’re right, and they’re wrong. They don’t have anything to fight against.
And what the parents in this study told me was that the conflict level in the house just went way down because they weren’t taking the bait on these arguments. Or even considering these statements to be bait or provocation.
It was like, oh, the waters are cold; it sometimes gets cold. I don’t like that either, in jest. And so, one of our findings was reduced conflict. And another was that parents felt less stress. And they felt more confident in their ability to handle these situations as parents. Those were our primary outcomes. And they were remarkable.
SHERYL: Yeah, well, I want to move into it because you use the word motivational interviewing, which I have heard and tried to incorporate motivational interviewing into some of my teachings with moms for tweens and teens. And I was telling you, my gosh, I had never found a book that did this.
And many of our listeners don’t know what motivational interviewing is. So can you tell them exactly how you would define emotional motivational interviewing?
EMILY: So motivational interviewing is an evidence-based communication style, which means a lot of research shows it works. And it was developed in the 1980s and 1990s for therapists working with patients with alcohol addiction or other kinds of drug and alcohol problems.
And the idea is that it’s not confrontational. It’s based on this idea of understanding, confidence, and control. When you help your client to feel understood, confident, and in control, they are much more likely to consider making that change in their life than when you maybe tell them how bad they are, for using alcohol or drugs, how they’ve disappointed people, or how they just have to do it. It’s time to do it. You have to do it, and you try and push.
So these therapists who brilliant guys name William Rolnick. And Bill Miller kind of articulated this approach in their work with patients struggling with addiction. And I learned it in graduate school while training to be a psychologist. And as I started practicing, I was like, oh my god, this is the best thing I learned in grad school. The best thing I learned in grad school is to use it daily.
And it just teaches you these principles of communication that involve sort of reflective listening and what they call “rolling with resistance” and learning to recognize your reflex or that desire to fix somebody else by telling them what to do and taking control.
And instead of doing that, we approach it with curiosity. From a respectful distance, we listen and ask questions about values and goals. And it helps people in a therapeutic setting. And I can’t tell you every time I would go to a motivational interviewing, training, or workshop, which I love to go to because it’s so helpful for me, somebody would inevitably say, God, I need to use this with my teenager.
I was starting to think about that, and all the pieces started to line up for me like, oh, when I’m working with all these parents in my clinic, who are struggling with their teenagers, I could teach them motivational interviewing. And then people loved it. And the opportunity to write the book came out. And I was like; I swear this is psychology’s best-kept secret. So many people could use this.
SHERYL: Oh my gosh, yes. Yes. Yes, Yes, I agree. 100%. And I love how you talk about how especially with our kids, we want to give that advice because we care so much about them. We have all this experience; we know this will not go well, right?
This will not go well for you if you continue on this path, or they’re in the midst of something really painful. And we’re sitting in that painful experience with them and just want to improve it. Or do we want to tell them what to do, you know that to make it better? Why doesn’t that work? So why is that?
EMILY: You’re describing this idea of the “righting reflex.” And actually, therapists have it too. But parents have it way worse because we love our kids. And the other thing that makes it hard for parents is that we have been doing everything for them. Since birth, we’ve wiped their nose, bought their outfits, and checked their homework.
And so suddenly, you have a 12 or 13-year-old resisting your input, and it’s disorienting. It’s like, what, Where’s this coming from? But it is just a part of normal development.
And that desire to control, protect, and share your great life advice can sometimes set up the opposite of feeling understood and confident in control. So if my kid is struggling with, say, there’s a difficult class this year for my kid, they don’t like the teacher, they don’t like the subject, they don’t understand the homework. And they’re having a hard time.
As a mom, I might be tempted to just kind of jump in and, like a mama bear-like, call the guidance office at the school and get them switched into another class. Because clearly, this teacher isn’t doing a good job explaining the assignments, and my kid is now coming home crying and feeling bad about herself.
So that is that righting reflex, that desire to control, that desire to help. And again, it’s from a place of love, but it doesn’t mean I’m overly controlling. It’s something about my personality. But what if, instead of doing that, I tried to take a beat and just sit and reflect with my daughter and say, hey, it seems like this class has been really hard. You seem upset about it. Tell me more. Tell me more about what’s going on. And just let her talk it through.
Use those reflective listening statements like oh, so it sounds like the homework is on this website, and they keep changing the password, and it’s hard to figure it out. That sounds so stressful. And then I just really asked why questions from a place of curiosity.
Like, how are other kids in your class handling this? Or, what’s the teacher like? Can you talk to them about the problem you’re having? Or how do they react to that? Or, what do you think is the best thing to do here to solve this problem?
In, we help them problem solve, rather than getting in the way of problem-solving, or worse, making them mad at us. Because she might be like, Oh, my mom doesn’t think I can handle this; I’m not feeling understood, confident, or in control; my mom is just kind of jumping in and trying to do things for me.
SHERYL: Yeah, and then they can resist, I think of this very much, like empowerment, dynamic, where you’re allowing your reflective listening, you’re showing them that you’re on their team, you get it, they feel understood as you said, and, interestingly, the second one is confident. And then control is the third one, but be confident that you believe in them to come up with the answers they need.
EMILY: Yeah, exactly, you get it. And this is very romantic. And I want to just acknowledge that because sometimes kids don’t have the solutions in them. And maybe it would be helpful to talk about that, too.
A situation where the kids, it’s when there’s a great outcome here is that my daughter says, well, maybe I can talk to the teacher, and you can just print the assignments for me, and then I’ll have them for the rest of the semester. Oh, good, go do that. But sometimes, kids are not going to get there. And they truly do not know how to handle something or have bad ideas.
SHERYL: Yes, yes. And I think that’s where the reflective listening comes in because you’re doing that first. And then you’re asking the good questions, but you can also coach them. But you’re not clear on being in first and trying to fix it right out of the box.
EMILY: Yes, totally. When I work with parents, one of the questions I always ask is, if you remember being your child’s age, can you remember an advisor, an adult in your life whose advice you would take? And they wrack their brains a little bit.
And then they might describe their mom, dad, grandma, swim coach, youth group leader, or something. And I say, Okay, why them? And they always say the same thing. And it’s truly remarkable because the families I work with are extremely diverse. They come from all walks of life. And they all say the same thing, which is because they listened.
SHERYL: Yeah. And it kind of lets us off the hook as you say that it’s not easy to listen, especially when we have all these thoughts going on in our heads. But then we don’t have to come up with all the answers or even assume because, as a mom, I relate to that, assuming that I know.
But when you even ask questions, you were saying in the beginning, like, Oh, tell me about that, then you find out that much of what you’re even thinking isn’t true. Like we’ve assumed so much.
But when you hear it from their perspective, it’s connecting because then you hear what’s going on in an ideal way. I mean, they’re not ideal; there’s not always going to tell you everything that’s going on.
But did you find that the more parents practiced this, the more the kid started opening up and sharing more as time went on?
EMILY: Exactly, absolutely. Because it’s not a one-time thing, these are not magic words like Open Sesame and all of a sudden. You get to hear about the drama in the friend group; that won’t happen in a one-shot. Some parents are so fortunate to have those super expressive kids who communicate with them.
But if that is not your dynamic, you may never fully get that. And that’s okay; hopefully, your children and you can connect in other ways. But if you have a dynamic where there are judgment and power struggles, in this kind of thing going on, you know what you mean?
Maybe doing this the first time you try this is not getting much information but just resetting some of the expectations around how you communicate. And it may take a few times, and kids are always, in my experience dipping their toes into the water with any adult to be like, how’s this person going to react to me?
Some adults will be very anxious and maybe assume the worst. And then some adults can kind of you can joke around. And so, if a kid is joking about their homework, are they probably testing the water? Is this somebody going to say, Well, you better get back in your room and do it then? Or is this somebody who can go? Oh, gosh, that sounds like a whole situation. Yeah, how are you gonna handle that?
And so, as adults, we can lead, right? Like, we can reset. Even though many parents feel like my kid doesn’t come out of their room, I have no power. But you can; there’s a certain power that all parents have, and how you react when your child shares, even a little bit of information with you, may determine what the next conversation will look like.
SHERYL: Yeah, I’d like to think of teenagers as turtles. They come out of their room, and you’re gonna hit them off with a bunch of questions; they’re gonna run back and get their shell, but they’ll start poking their head out a little bit more if they know all it’s okay to come out. She won’t hit me with all these questions or all this advice or tell me what to do.
Then they can relax a little bit. And we need to try to loosen up a little and lighten up. And I love that in your book. I think you talked about using a shower analogy, if I’m correct, about thinking about ten years from now. What do you want your relationship to look like with your kid when they’re a young adult?
And will you have to remind them to get in the shower when they’re 24? It’s just like, oh, my gosh, that’s so good. That’s just a great exercise of what to do.
EMILY: Yeah, I know that on the very first page of the book, when I run groups like parents support groups, sometimes I start with that activity, which is why I started the book with it because the parent goes well when I start with that in a group.
I would just want everybody to journal for a minute about how if you can imagine a scene in a movie and ten years when you’re interacting with your family, like what are you hoping for, and what parents are hoping for is not compliance, its relationship.
What they’re hoping for in 10 years is not that they finally won the power struggle. They can call all the shots, hoping they don’t have to call any shots, and it can just be kind of pleasant. And they can enjoy each other’s company in a way that is not about right and wrong and following directions. And all those things that we struggle with when our kids are young.
SHERYL: Yeah. I love that your book is about how we develop those strong relationships. And what does that look like? And how can we start dialoguing with our kids in a way that will build that relationship, which is the most important thing we can do?
And you share that repeatedly; I want to do another scenario, though. So can we just do that? Before we even go, I just thought it’s so helpful in the book, where you get the scripts, and then it’s like, you cross out what we normally will say, and then okay, here’s something that’s going to help it to go a little better. And we need that. And suppose we need those scripts.
So okay, this is a big one. So chores, okay, this always comes up, like, how do I get my kid to help? How do I get them to contribute around the house, so they’re, let’s say they’re just on video games or playing, playing, playing, and they still haven’t made their choice?
And so you’ve gone, asked them to do their chores, and reminded them to do their chores, and they aren’t doing chores. So what would you do? And you’re getting into all these fights and telling them to get off, it’s time to get off, and they’re not getting off. So what would you say?
EMILY: Tough when I’ve been there, as a parent, I don’t feel I’ve mastered it. But as a psychologist.
SHERYL: That’s so true when it’s not your character.
EMILY: Totally. So let’s see, again, the thought, I might just use a reflective statement, like, it seems like you have a hard time getting off the game, and see what they say.
Just make that observation and let it hang. Sometimes that’s enough, just a nonjudgmental observation. That’s not like I said, do it now. It seems like it’s hard to quit. I might ask, like, what do you need to accomplish in the game to feel like it’s a good time to quit?
Because sometimes, I don’t know if I have a house with people who play video games; I don’t. But I know people in my house will say, Oh, let me just get the Ruby for this sword. And then I can pause, right? And so that shows kind of that curiosity, that understanding that, like, I want to understand what you’re doing and what’s getting in the way.
The when question can be helpful here, like when would be a good time to pause or when would be a good time to put that laundry away, pick up your room, or help your dad with the dishes. And then, here’s a wildcard that may or may not work. But if people feel bold, they can try it and just let us know how it goes.
But sometimes, when you’ve been in a power struggle, thinking about that piece of control, sometimes actually over-emphasizing that the other person is in control of their behavior. And I am not; it can have a really interesting effect.
So you could try, if you’re feeling kind of bold, you could try to say something like, Well, I can’t make you do it, I just really want you to, and I hope you will take a break soon and do it. It’s just an interesting thing to throw out there. Because it does put the kid in the driver’s seat, it reminds them of their autonomy and that they are making a decision.
If that’s your practice in your house, you can tie that to like a consequence or something. But either way, just remind them, like, I hope you make a good choice here. I can’t make it for you can be an interesting way. And I’ve heard from some parents that this can work.
SHERYL: Yeah, no, I agree with you. 100%. And in fact, I’ve seen it work so many times with my community where just acknowledging that we only have limited control, especially when you have tweens and teens, and the older they get, the less control we have.
And just saying, hey, this is what I hope, but you are now making choices for yourself, like, I can’t force you to do this. But this is even when they get older; this is your life, almost like handing it back to them.
Now, of course, we’re talking about video games. But I do think that because you give them that choice, it helps them to move into your acknowledging its third choice.
EMILY: The fact is that this is going to be a problem that we all deal with forever. I mean, I did this last night; I went to go read my novel. And then I realized I was flipping through Instagram, right, and transitioning off of devices is hard. And it’s supposed to be hard. It’s designed to be hard. These tech companies make more money the more time we spend on their apps. So this will be something we all have to practice all the time.
And so I’m thinking of one more strategy to offer, which would even be offering that empathy and understanding of I also really struggle with this; I can see that this is fun and hard to get off. I struggle with that, and showing that a little nonjudgmental understanding can go a long way.
And then also, all the non-motivational interviewing things can help with getting chores done like having realistic expectations and establishing routines like, during this 30 minutes, after dinner, we all do chores, that’s the whole family doing it. And it’s not just you, and nobody’s getting singled out.
So those are sort of other strategies to try. But we have a reward system that works for some kids but not for others. But yeah, there are lots of things to try. But the things in the book are the kind of nonjudgmental listening, the curiosity about what’s getting in the way. And that recognition of autonomy that, like, you have to make a good choice here because I can’t make it for you.
SHERYL: So good. Emily, we could talk so much, but I want to encourage them to buy your book because it’s so good. And you talk in the book, which is helpful, too. I want everybody to know about rewards and punishments and why that doesn’t always work. And you go into that the scripts.
There’s something that I want to end on, though, because I was struck by how comforting this is and how much our listeners need to hear this. You say, and this is more towards the beginning; many of us have internalized, to some extent, the idea that our children are an extension of ourselves.
When our kids struggle, we feel the shame of having somehow failed. When they succeed, we bask in their glory. And like everybody’s raising their hand, I know, confident we must have done something right. In this book, I’m going to challenge that view.
And then you go on, you talk about the research, but you go on to talk about how we don’t have as much control as we think. And there is what the research shows, can you talk to our listeners quickly because we need to hear that we blame ourselves so much for our kid’s struggles?
So if I had done this, then this wouldn’t be happening. Or maybe I’ll have neglected them when they were three and a half or, you know, that one incident that happened? We track it back. We’re trying to explain why our kids are struggling, and we’re beating ourselves up. What did you find? In the research? And can you talk about that a little bit?
EMILY: Sure. And I think, in particular, at our age, I get anxious about this, and my peers do too. Like social media, digital stuff, like we know, it’s not great for kids, but we don’t know how bad it is.
And so when our kids are struggling, it’s easy to say, Oh my God, I ruined them by letting them look at YouTube, which is a really scary thought. And I can’t speak to that because it’s an ongoing experiment, right? And we’re all going to learn, but I can give us a comforting historical perspective: we’re not different from people in the past. We’re just not – like there’s always a new technology being invented; there are always ways in which childhood and parents’ expectations are changing.
And when it comes to the big problems that kids might face, things like mental illness, depression, anxiety, and more serious mental illnesses, parents don’t have a massive influence in terms of their parenting style on those outcomes.
And I would just even encourage you, if you’re anxious about that, to think about your siblings, right? Because chances are, there’s pretty big personality or income, or relationship or whatever differences between you and your siblings, which means that it wasn’t your personality, and your achievement in life wasn’t all determined by exactly what time your parents made you go to bed, or whether they let you have a boyfriend when you were 15.
Or, whether they let you go out with friends on school nights, it just wasn’t; those things have not been shown to determine these important adult outcomes. And just anecdotally, I can also tell you that the families that I work with the parents who come to see me, and these are for the big problems, schizophrenia, addiction, depression, the big problems that teens and young adults can face. I see a range of parents; most of them, I just think, are the nicest people.
And obviously, it’s a total cross-section of society. There’s nothing pathological about most of these families. They got unlucky either because mental illness runs in their family or for reasons that we don’t quite explain something; something has gone off the rails, but it’s not the parents, and I love to do parents support groups because it can be so helpful to get to know other people who are struggling with the same problem you’re having.
And you realize, Wow, that person seems pretty nice. And she seems like she has her act together. And she seems like a great mom. Is it possible that the same might be true even though I feel like a failure?
SHERYL: Yeah, so good. Yeah, being with other parents willing to talk about their struggles in a safe environment, we can say that you’re not alone. And exactly, I mean, the way that you put it, like, wow, she’s struggling with that, and like, she’s here, and she wants to be the best mom she can be. And it can be so comforting.
Throughout your book, you just give a lot of hope and such helpful tools that we can use to build that strong relationship. So I love it. I want everybody to get your book and tell everybody where they can find you.
EMILY: Thank you so much for having me on. I’m so glad you love the book. That is just making me so happy. I’m proud of it. I think people will like it if they check it out. They can find me at https://www.dremilykline.com/. And there’s a link on the website to my Instagram, Emily Klein, Ph.D.; they can find the book wherever books are sold. Get it on Amazon, and get it at your local bookseller. And check it out.
SHERYL: Awesome. Well, Emily, thank you. Thank you for coming on. It was so much fun.
EMILY: Thank you so much, Sheryl. This is great.