Ep 188: Tuning In to Our Teens (and Ourselves!)

Neuroscientists Ted Brodkin and Ashley Pallathra share tips for finding harmony and connection with our teens and with ourselves. We discuss attunement, meditation, conflict resolution and more!

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Full show notes

The hectic life of parenthood can make it hard to take care of your body and mind! When you’re waking up at 5 AM, trying to prep lunch for everyone before dropping them off and barely making it to work on time, running home to make dinner and still squeezing in time to help with homework, you can start to feel a little disconnected from yourself. Taking care of your family is so essential…but what about self care?

If we’re not putting aside time for self-restoration, we end up taking our stress out on our kids! We become reactive instead of communicative, yelling instead of listening. We want to be the most patient, level-headed parents we can be, but we can’t do that unless we take care of ourselves!  If we’re practicing mindfulness in our own lives, we’ll not only become more connected to ourselves, but also to our kids.

We’re joined this week by Ted Brodkin and Ashley Pallathra, authors of Missing Each Other: How to Create Meaningful Connections. Ted is an associate professor of psychiatry at  the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the founder and director of the Adult Autism Spectrum Program at Penn Medicine. Ashley is a therapist and neuroscience researcher currently pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the Catholic University of America. Together, they are dedicated and passionate researchers of human social and emotional behavior.

In the episode, Ted and Ashley are defining the term “attunement”, and how parents can practice it to benefit themselves and their families. Plus, we’re discussing how we can become better communicators, forge stronger connections and work through conflicts with our teens!

Self-Reflecting and Reconnecting

In order to create harmony with ourselves and others, Ted and Ashley believe we should strive for what they call “attunement”. This state of being requires being deeply aware of our own emotions and physical senses as well as the feelings of others. It’s a combination of being relaxed and calm as well as alert to our surroundings! Ted explains that we all have a natural sense of attunement as babies that gets lost over time as a result of the stresses of everyday life. If we can work on shedding that stress, we can move closer to attunement, says Ted.

Ted and Ashley describe a process called interoceptive awareness that can help you reach a sense of attunement with yourself. To do this, Ashley explains that you’ve got to listen to your own internal processes. When you and your teen are in the heat of an argument, is your heart racing? Are your shoulders tense? Asking yourself these questions is the first step of self awareness, says Ashley, and can keep you from being reactive when triggered. Developing an understanding of how your mind and body respond to stress can help you manage it better and stay calm when things get intense.

In the episode, the three of us talk about various different ways parents or teens can destress to reach attunement. Ted and Ashley describe different kinds of meditation, explaining everything from standing meditation to meditating with others in a community! They also recommend taking a little bit of time on a regular basis to practice physical de-stressing techniques, like releasing tension from your shoulders. This can be good preparation to prevent physical stress when you’re in a triggering situation later down the line.

After we’ve reached attunement for ourselves, we can strive for attunement with others. Ted, Ashley and I dive into how mindfulness can strengthen our relationships!

Creating Stronger Connections

Attunement is a powerful part of interacting with others. When we’re attune to people’s emotions, physical state and mental wellbeing, we can be better teammates, colleagues, partners and parents. Ashley explains that even though our generation has the power to forge connections online, we’re less synced up than ever before. The important nuances of nonverbal communication can only be experienced in person, says Ashley, not through the phone screen!

The next time you’re having a conversation with someone, Ted and Ashley suggest trying to sense their physical and emotional state. By understanding where the other person is at, we can create better communication and connection. When it comes to teens, It’s especially important to pay attention to subtext, and sense what they’re really saying under the surface! Even when they’re lashing out at you or seem to be deliberately striving to push your buttons, they may be experiencing a deeper sense of frustration about their lack of independence or upset about something that has nothing to do with you!

Sometimes, we can find our relationships strained for a while, without a clear path to reconnection. But this doesn’t mean that things can’t be patched up, says Ashley. She explains that rekindling starts with self forgiveness and compassion for ourselves and the relationship. Natural connection ebbs and flows with the rhythm of life, she says, and these moments of negativity or loss of connection can actually help us gain some perspective on the relationship.

When teens are driving us up the wall over and over again, it's hard to feel connected to them at all! But attempting to find attunement with our teens might just help us end the cycle of conflict and restore peace.

Restoring Harmony In Our Home

Using attunement to identify and prevent the progression of negative patterns is one of the best ways to heal your relationship with your teen, says Ted. When our minds become accustomed to the cycle of a power struggle, it becomes a habit, behaving like a domino effect to create conflict over and over between us and teens. If we’re aware of how the cycle starts, we can deliberately break the usual chain of events, and instead usher in a new way of communicating and solving conflicts.

In the episode, Ted and Ashley talk about how parents can put their own agendas aside to meet teens where they are. For example, teens tend to want more autonomy, and they grasp for this by resisting your rules and insisting they go to that party past curfew. And while it's tempting to assert your authority and just say no, Ted and Ashley suggest really striving to reach attunement with teens and understand why exactly it is they want to attend this party. Showing them you understand their growing independence and making a compromise is a great way to start rekindling a connection and end a cycle of defiance.

If a talk with a teen is getting really heated, Ted and Ashley suggest taking a minute to pause and practice those de-stressing techniques to get in tune with yourself, before checking back in with teens. It’s like an oxygen mask on an airplane, says Ashley–sometimes you have to take a second to set yourself straight before you can really help a teen. We’re capable of having fluid, productive communication with teens–if we’re able to set aside reactivity and anxiety, expand our emotional capacity, and make time to work towards reconnection.

In the Episode…

It was wonderful talking to Ted and Ashley today about how we can become more in tune with ourselves and our teens. On top of the topics discussed above, we talked about:
  • How we can model emotional regulation for our teens
  • Why we should reconsider how we confront our kids
  • How to give teens privacy without losing your connection
  • Why parents need to put their ego aside during conflicts
If you want to find more of Ted and Ashley's work, you can find them at missingeachother.com. The website houses excerpts from their book, blog, and even a free exercise videos that accompany Missing Each Other! We hope you enjoyed listening and we’ll see you next week!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Edward S. (Ted) Brodkin, MD
Edward S. (Ted) Brodkin, MD
Assoc Professor of #Psychiatry @Penn, Founder and Director of Adult #Autism Spectrum Program @PennMedicine, #SocialNeuroscience, co-#author of #MissingEachOther
Ep 188: Tuning In to Our Teens (and Ourselves!)
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