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Navigating the generation gap

Co-creation is key

Navigating the generation gap

Social scientists observe that children create meaning from the world around them and work together to create their own interpretations of even complicated issues like racism and gender roles. But adults often miss out on kid culture and its creative force because they are too busy imparting adult culture or too busy with their own lives. With teens the process is undeniable! Ever heard of the generation gap?

Since cars were invented and teens asked for the keys on weekends and had a separate time away from parents, teens have been creating their own culture. Rock and roll was born as a result! Today teens create their own language, meanings and of course music. It flies at the speed of the internet through social media. Teen culture and various subcultures are dynamic and ever changing.

In other parts of the world, the generations are not so divided. While the amount of time spent with each other daily may not be as great in our Western culture as tribal cultures are we doomed to be disengaged as parents and teens? No! We have choices. One powerful choice is to co-create the relationship you want with your teens.

READ MORE: Top tips for parenting teens

Co-creation: two-way communication
Co-creating is a sociological and even a business term about relationships. It suggests that each party in a relationship shares the ability or power to influence the relationship. Traditional sociology views the role of children and teens as passive recipients of social learning where the institutions of society such as family, school and church teach children about our culture's beliefs and behaviors.

As any new parent knows, children define the relationship. Babies cry. Parents feed them, pick them up or change a diaper. That influence continues throughout the child's life as they learn and grow to full maturity.

In the new sociology of childhood, children are co-creators of culture and relationships. Their role is obviously different than that of adults but their influence as what sociologists call "social actors" is powerful. (Prout & James 2010).

READ MORE: Should you vaccinate your teen?

An Example of Co-creation
My youngest daughter loves horses. She has been riding since she was four years old. In her mid-teens, she discovered an approach of interacting with horses popularized by Monty Roberts. Monty Roberts is considered one of the first horse whisperers. He was made famous by the book Shy Boy which is the story of a wild mustang that communicated with Monty and followed him home. Mr. Roberts attributes this to the language of equis. It is the non-verbal communication horses use to communicate with each other.

By observing the non-verbal communication of horses, Mr. Roberts learned it over time and applied it to communicate with horses in their "language." By learning horses' language and behaviors, a human can interact with a horse in a way that invites partnership instead of submission to control and domination. Parent and teen cultural communication is like that!

When parents and teens understand the motivations of each and communicate in a way that is understood by both, positive things can happen. By tuning into one another, meeting the horse with its own language (non-verbal communication and behaviors) a human can literally co-create a relationship with another species.

Ask any teen or tween if their parents are alien to them and at some point during their adolescence they will likely agree. Focusing on communication, we can learn something about the importance of actively, co-creating a relationship from the example of the horse whisperer that can be applied to the parent-teen relationship.

READ MORE: Is your teen self-centered?

The keys to co-creating a satisfying relationship and closing the generation gap between teens and parents are mutual respect and tuning into each other's communication style. Relating to each other becomes less about directing and correcting behavior and more about uniting together to solve problems.

When teens and parents negotiate their relationship in a way that honors the importance of both of their roles and share responsibility for a positive relationship, they feel better and enjoy each other.

Laura Lyles Reagan, MS is a family sociologist, teen-parent relationship coach and author of the upcoming book, "How to Raise Respectful Parents". She can be reached for comment or questions at laura@ lauralreagan.com