Manage Your Power in the World – Dialogue Education and Parenting?

Usually we’re talking about workshops or courses or change initiatives when we talk about Dialogue Education, and the fact is, for as much as Dialogue Education is about learning, its roots in Paulo Freire’s theories of “liberation education” mean it’s also about managing our power in the world. Will we make decisions based on fear (be dominant or subservient), or based on dialogue and mutual-respect?

There’s no greater opportunity to gain insights into how we use our power than to notice how we parent:  like during those times when we try to force our will or mold our children, claiming it’s for their own good or safety; or the times we devalue or undermine their decision-making in an attempt to force them into behaving the way we believe they “should.” I believe these are red flags that indicate we have our own personal development work to do. Of course, it’s appropriate for parents to scream NO as a toddler runs out into the street, or set developmentally appropriate and mutually-respectful boundaries. But it’s inappropriate to use shame to try to control our teen’s behavior, like when we say “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” or when we interrupt, yet take our child to task when he or she interrupts.

Slow Parenting Teens:  How to Create a Positive, Respectful and Fun Relationship with Your Teenager, is a new book for parents who are seeking a meaningful, positive relationship with their teens. Authors Molly Wingate and Marti Woodward do a brilliant job of helping parents to recognize those attitudes and actions that either cultivate or undermine healthy relationships.

Slow parenting teens is not about raising kids without problems, struggles, or even physiological challenges. It’s about building and maintaining a relationship with your teen so you can move through “trouble” together and not as enemies. You become your teenager’s role model for owning tough feelings and choices. You demonstrate self-care, and compassion. (p122)

Wingate and Woodward offer five attitudes for creating enlivening, trusting and safe relationships with our children. Each chapter ends with numerous suggestions for improving our relationships through the gradual adoption of each attitude.

  1. Steward your teens
  2. Respect their personalities
  3. Catch them doing it right
  4. Listening is effective
  5. Parent every day

…All aspects of parenting are opportunities to build a sustainable, fun, and respectful relationship with your teenager. Even the most difficult, unpleasant aspects of parenting teens can build the relationship you want if you use the five attitudes… (p.88)

Here are some of the outcomes you can expect:

Stewarding teens not only pays off in terms of energy but also in relationship quality. Teens feel cared for, but not controlled, and they’re paid attention to, not judged. Teenagers gain self-confidence and learn to trust their independent judgment. Stewardship allows them to develop judgment and discernment with your support. Your teens are more likely to turn to you for support when you foster a positive relationship…(p. 34)

One of the things I appreciate greatly in this book are the examples in each chapter of dialogue between parents and teens, and how they differ when we “slow parent” or “fast-parent.”

Here’s an example of how to “slow parent” (be a more effective listener):

Listening, the way we refer to it, means your teenager’s story is more important than your story. You want to hear her process, conclusions, questions, logic, and confusion. Then you’ll ask for more of her thoughts at least two times before you even venture a remark, much less an opinion… (p. 63)

As one who’s used Dialogue Education in my work for many years, I found these authors to be kindred spirits focused on familiar principles and practices. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’d like to have a better relationship with teens (or adults for that matter)! Not surprisingly, Slow Parenting Teens is also recommended by teens.

Darlene Goetzman, Dialogue Education Coach, is author of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.