I’m guessing if you’re reading you have a teen son or daughter or a teen in your midst. How are you finding that? My guess is that sometimes communication can be difficult. In fact, it can be frustrating, exasperating, possibly even angering. Hello Dear Reader, I hear you, I’ve been there too. But welcome along to this exploration of how cycling is an apparent panacea for everything! No, I’m kidding, but maybe this will give you some food for thought if either you or your teen is a cyclist and how on earth that might help with getting them to open up!
So the thing is, the uncommunicative frustration, or the seemingly deliberate miscommunications, the closed-off, locked-away state of affairs or the surliness, curtness or downright acerbic tongues of teens, well, it’s perfectly normal. I know, that’s not always consolation. However, it’s what we expect as most teens pass through the minefield of hormonal imbalances, their own frustratingly unanswerable conundrums of self-expression and self-identity, and inescapable group and social peer pressure as well as the desire and need to fit in and to be accepted on their own terms. You can see it’s not easy for them any more than it is for you as parent or guardian.
Personally, I find it’s best to go easy on myself and on them too. I try to acknowledge, but ultimately leave behind my harsh, critical inner voice that would try to have me buy into the idea that my parenting skills are second- or third-rate or that somehow it was my teen’s “fault”. Ultimately…
Everybody be calm and we all gonna ride outta here alive 🙂
But the point of this writing is that it doesn’t have to be like that. So I’d like in this article to explore how cycling can be leveraged as another tool or technique in dealing with this phase – because it is a transient phase in a child’s growth. But while cycling is the foundation, hopefully there’ll be a morsel of food for thought for you regardless of whether you try the cycling with your teen or not.
Re-framing the idea of getting them to open up?
What’s wrong with getting them to open up? Why does that need re-framed and what do we re-frame it as? Well, good questions as ever 🙂 Put it like this, if we’re talking about uncommunicative teens; typical of many teens in many ways, then how successful a strategy is actively trying to get them to do something? It’s hit-and-miss at best isn’t it? Mostly because what we want to get them to do is by definition something they wouldn’t do of their own accord. Conversely, the things our teens might seek out of their own accord, those are the things as parents and caregivers that we seem to often want to stop them doing, right? Ideally for a teen, they’d want our permission; they’d want us to allow them to do those other things. And that’s what this re-framing is about…
Instead of getting them to open up, we can create circumstances that ALLOW them to open up spontaneously
Do you think that’s possible? Do you believe you can create the right circumstances in which your currently uncommunicative teen will just spontaneously open up to you? I can’t say. But I’ve written this because I believe it’s achievable from whatever your current start point happens to be. I believe this, having seen it as a counsellor.
I never give up hope. And if you’re reading here, perhaps you’re the same. Everything’s a possibility, we just need the right guidance, skill, motivation and perseverance. We can surely have a breakthrough. And that takes us to cycling.
Working in cognitive and behavioural therapy, I like a good experiment. This isn’t a behavioural experiment, but it’s an experiment nonetheless. It may or may not work. Getting something to work isn’t the point. The way to break frustration is to try something different. That’s the point.
In my experience, there’s no such thing as an experiment that doesn’t work. Every experiment, even the one that doesn’t generate expected results or the ones we’d want, still tells us something if we’re willing to take lessons from it. What we’re doing is essentially cycling as therapy. But just not in any kind of formalized transactional way. It just happens that we’re cycling. And it just happens that that’s therapeutic for us and our teen. That’s all 🙂
But first let’s expand on a few key ideas – again all food for thought – before we start.
Moderate your expectations to ensure success
Yes, this first! While I wouldn’t suggest we ought to be happy with advancing to single-sentence dialogue with our teen, because that’s better than two-word dialogue, at the same time I think setting our communication expectations at a realistic level will benefit us all and the entire situation.
Think of it like this, if we envisage an endless chat about all the things in our teen’s life we appear to be excluded from over the last few years, and that doesn’t transpire. How will we feel? Will we feel the experiment has failed? Will we feel we ourselves have failed? What do we do then, accuse our teen? I’m trying here but you’re making things impossible! You get my point.
If, on the other hand, we aim for realistically achievable outcomes then we’re setting ourselves up for success from the get go.
Moderating our expectations goes for those achievable outcomes too
Like, when we think about our teen opening up, do we ask: what is it I want from that? what might come from this that I’d be happy with? You might find that simply sharing something, in this case the bike ride, is a welcome outcome to be sought. Something even simpler might be worth giving it a try, something like having had a laugh together maybe. Laughing with each other is a highly bonding social signal. Might it be worth it to have just found out one interesting thing about your teen that you’d never have known (because they’d never have opened up) before you two went cycling together.
What I’m saying is that when the outcomes are realistic and achievable, success is more attainable. And then how much better will you feel if that success happens, true? It’ll motivate you, and potentially your teen, to go cycling again in each other’s company. And surely that’s a success coming from the point at which you felt diametrically opposite and different to your teen? 🙂
It’s easy to become locked into one idea of a parent or caregiver role, in my opinion. And that’s what exactly? Well, someone that provides security, guidance, rules, routine, love. But it’s almost an unwritten orthodoxy of teenage years that teens can be contrary. It can feel sometimes as if their whole entire purpose when they’re with us is to stymie our every attempt to provide what we believe in our ever-wise experience that they need. But that’s part of our teen’s way of feeling out the boundaries of their world, maybe you even did that yourself, remember? Would it be possible for us to take just one tiny step back from locking ourselves into a rigid idea of parenthood? I think we could just be a person that loves this teen – and you know you love them, otherwise you’d not be here, right? If we were able to take that one small step back, like when we take a bike ride, we may actually take with us a barrier to communication.
That’s right. You gotta be real with yourself. Issues are not all theirs. Communication problems can have multiple causes. Sometimes, maybe more often than we’d care to admit, it can be our own ego that obstructs clear channels of communication. But I don’t want to digress, that’s just food for thought 🙂
A word on gratitude
By this I mean to consciously thank your teen. Huh? Exactly, maybe you’re unaccustomed? If that were so, I’d get that entirely. We’re kind of brought up to be grateful to our parents or caregivers. And that’s proper that we ought to. But I think gratitude goes, or should go, all ways. I’ve found that cultivating a grateful state of mind is a great stress crusher in general. But specifically here, a simple, thanks for coming riding with me can conclude in the warmest way a wholly positive experience for you both. That simple statement can underscore something that I know for a lot of us tussling with teen communication mightn’t always plain. And that is that we love our teen. As it should be. Telling your teen you love them is great. But again, for me showing is better than telling. You may or may not be a demonstrative parent or caregiver or show love that way. But by doing this, by going riding with them, by being interested in them during that ride, by thanking them for their company, you’re showing you love them. And that’s paramount in all this 🙂
Our natural protective instincts or our tendency to want to guide often elevate themselves to such lofty positions that we can overlook having fun. But it could be true couldn’t it, that just as we might imagine not seeing our teen smile or being happy, perhaps they might imagine the same of us? Particularly in their company when communication can perhaps often be about grave subjects, right?
But I’d almost be willing to bet money your teen has an awesome sense of humor that you don’t always get to see. I have similar personal experience. My teens have well-cultivated little sense of humor that, during their surly times, like everything else, can become shrouded in teen angst or whatever we might colloquially call it 🙂 It’s there though, reserved for their peers and contemporaries I’d guess.
But the bike rides can be a time they drop their guard sufficiently for it to surface in a cool way. In turn you might find your own guard drops too. Yep, sometimes you gotta put your own guards down first as a sign of trust. But it’s worth it. Sharing a laugh together can be a revelation in fraught times for sure. Give it a try, be self-effacing if you have that capacity. If your best material is built on foundations of corny mom, or dad jokes, you’ll definitely have that self-effacing capacity in you! 😀
One other thing…
I’m sure it goes without saying, but I think the one thing that could disrupt any efforts to make contact with your teen while trying this bike-ride experiment is safety. If either or both of you aren’t used to cycling in traffic on public roads for example and you’re both harassed, frightened or worried, that’s could potentially become a preoccupation on the ride, injecting stress into the situation. That ain’t where we want to be. Choose somewhere you feel safe, wherever that is for you both.
Our no-lose cycling-with-our-teen experiment
So we’re going to try cycling with our teen. It’s an experiment. And in order to gain the maximum benefit and utility from doing this, I’d like you to consider two things.
Firstly, as above, that you’ve moderated your expectations of the bike ride. You know what you hope for, and what you hope for isn’t a pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic outcome, but is a realistic, entirely achievable outcome.
Secondly, I’d like you to view this experiment as simply trying something. While we have realistic outcomes in mind, our bike ride experiment is largely about the active process of doing something. If we stay open to all outcomes, we may be pleasantly surprised. AND, if things don’t go to plan, staying open to outcomes means there’s always a chance that something beneficial can come from that un-sought situation. Likewise, being adaptable, not being too rigid, allowing the ride to flow, reduces stress both on them and on you. I mean, if I set out with the determined goal of HAVING A GOOD TIME! then I’d feel as if I were forcing a situation by the strength of my will alone! Whereas if we set out on a bike ride with our teen with a goal of having a laugh in mind, and really just want to see what happens, well how can we lose? That’s our no-lose scenario. Our rolling with the punches affords us that space to drop our guard, and that sets up our virtuous circle. We drop our guard because we have no dogma, no rigid expectations, and our teen senses that and does the same, you get me, right? Awesome!
So we don’t really need to, and don’t worry about this, but it’s the scientist in me makes me do this! lol Yeah, if we were kind of semi-formalizing the experiment, we might break it down like this:
- Hypothesis to be tested?
- Can I share a laugh with my teen or enjoy their humor and wit on a bike ride?
- Can I find out one interesting thing about my teen that I’d never have known had I not gone on a bike ride with them?
- Can I encourage my teen to show their competitive streak on a bike ride and use that to leverage a nice, encouraging conversation?
- Can I draw out the natural leadership or empathetic instincts my teen has while showing me how to bike ride?
- …You get the idea 🙂 But remember, all we’re trying to do is to create the right set of circumstances through a bike ride with our teen, to allow them (and us!) to drop their guards, relax and open up. The cycling isn’t the end goal, it’s the means to the end goal, so don’t stress it 🙂
- Predicted outcome?
- Again predictions are best if they’re not extreme, no absolutes because nothing’s certain. Rather, the best predictions are realistic but espousing optimism, right? For example…
- We might be slow to warm up, but we’re just finding our feet, conversing as a couple of adults, rather than parent/guardian and child. Slow to warm up, but we got there.
- Potential difficulties and obstacles?
- By this I mean the kind that we can anticipate, plan for and whose effects we can mitigate against, or re-adjust our plan to account for. For example…
- My teen cycles, but I’ve not ridden a bike as an adult, I might be too timorous or frightened. I’d say, might this be a positive thing insofar as it allows your teen cyclist to take charge, to demonstrate their leadership etc (see below too)
- I can’t afford a bike for myself / my teen. Bikes can be expensive, you’re right. I’ve articles elsewhere on site listing brands. But there’s always the idea of borrowing a bike. Better still, if your teen is a cyclist already, buy a super-cheap used bike off of Craigslist / eBay / Gumtree or garage / car-boot or yard sales or any local classifieds and set that as your project to work with your teen to fix up this used bike and make it rideable. That one would be totally worth it if you were prepared to muck in. The same goes for your teen if you’re the cyclist but they’re not. Enlisting their help in a genuine way to partner you in fixing up a used bike could well be the project in itself, couldn’t it? I like that one.
- What if it’s terrible weather for cycling the day we planned it for? I’d say, sometimes, it’s pure kid fun to just to out and get soaking wet. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere where “terrible” weather means too hot, can you go out and start a water fight with your water bottles? You see where I’m coming from #adaptability101
- I’m not talking about planning for every single eventuality. That’s a kind of I’m-not-good-enough perfectionism that just never works in practice. What I’m getting at is simply to acknowledge that stuff happens. But to adopt the mindset that it doesn’t matter to the overall outcome, the overall challenge to you to go bike riding with your teen.
- Learnings after the ride?
- Did the outcome transpire as you’d thought? Was it better? Was it a washout? What would have made it better?
- Again, this isn’t us setting up an opportunity to criticize ourselves or our teen, or the weather, fate, God or anything else. Everything is an opportunity to learn something. So it is here too. Personally I don’t see these experiments as Bernoulli trials with only two possible (success/failure) outcomes. Rather I see it as: I tried this, and this was the outcome. Because that leaves me free to debrief the circumstances and adjust for the next experiment. That way, we’re always learning, see? Always improving, always getting better. In this case, better at parenting 🙂
So onto the experiments. The way I see it, there are a number of permutations here. Your teen might be a cyclist already, but you aren’t, in which case, see the first example. You might be the cyclist but your teen isn’t, see the second example. If neither of you cycle, I’d be surprised if you were reading here. But if you are, drop me a comment and I’ll do what I can to add more information to help out! And lastly, you and your teen might both be cyclists. That last case is the simplest from here as I’ve given most of the information you’ll need already, just pick a time and go for it. But otherwise, let’s look at the first two permutations…
Is your teen the cyclist?
In this situation, your teen is a cyclist – to whatever degree they know how to ride a bike – but you’re not.
But that’s good! Because, while this is possibly the most difficult for you, specially if you haven’t cycled in a good while, it utilizes a number of elements that we’ve mentioned above such as leadership and empathy in your teen. Leveraging these can turn your lack of experience into a very effective way of engaging with your teen through cycling. This is a very interesting role-reversal kind of experiment. I mean it may or may not work. But if you do it right, if you’re prepared to be the learner, the subordinate if you will, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.
Q: How do we convince our teen to go cycling with us?
A: I guess we need to know the reasons for any reticence over going cycling with us. What are those? Well, I think as moms and dads we’re all aware that we may well be the last person our teen would want to be seen outside with! I mean that jokingly, though I’m sure it could be true in a more serious sense. But I’d be confident that when push came to shove, your cycling teen would agree to a bike ride, specially under the circumstances where they’re teaching you something they know or showing you how to do something. I think many of us would be surprised. Of course you can always go with the flow and go riding early in the morning or in a place away from home and their judgemental peers!
What if their reticence comes not from embarrassment but from an anticipation of how your interaction while riding might go? If communication between you both has been, or can be fraught or confrontational, it’s maybe not surprising that they’d turn down the offer of going cycling together, right? Maybe you feel that communication strife occurs as a direct result of your teen’s attitude, disposition and demeanour. Maybe you feel you’re completely incapable of that kind of behaviour. Well, that could be true, or it might not, if you’re honest with yourself. But irrespective, one way to alleviate that tension is by being the more mature, by leading by example. And how’s that done?
Use the time that your teen is showing you or explaining or organising you into a new cyclist to test your new attitude. Wait, a new attitude? For me? Isn’t this about my teen? Well, yes, but I’m addressing you. And you can make a huge difference here if you’re motivated to. Your new attitude isn’t a massive leap. It’s a simple change of mind. A change from what to what? Well, for example, a change from…
- I know best to, sometimes my teen does indeed know better than me
- My experience tells me that… to, sometimes it’s the best lesson if my teen makes their own mistakes and learns from those. And in which case, I’ll be magnanimous about that and not cast it up.
- I’m the boss, to sometimes it’s okay for my teen to take the lead and for me to subordinate myself. It’s gotta be in the context of, it’s only a bike ride. Let your teen instruct, lead, decide and generally be in an authoritative position. If you’re not the cyclist, they may indeed be more knowledgeable. Rather than condescending to “allow” them to be the expert, simply relax your parenting guard and listen to them as though they were anyone else explaining something to you. Trusting your teen enough to hand over the reins of leadership to is a big thing for many parents and caregivers. But it’s totally doable with one swift leap of faith. You just do it 🙂 I mean, ultimately the buck still stops with you. You’re responsible. It takes confidence to back that off. But I know you can!
- I get the final word here, to sometimes I can be quiet and listen to what my teen has to say or wants to say, even if what they say is irrefutably incorrect, the point is to step back from confrontation and listen, to seek compromise, right?
- …And there are many more, but you get the idea. It’s about moderation of our existing attitudes. It’s true though: if we do what we always did, we get what we always got. In the case of fraught communication, there has to be intervention somewhere. You can do it right here 🙂 #mynewattitude
What else might we want to think about? Well, I think I can sum it all up by suggesting we be genuine. If we can’t, or we’d have to fake it, none of this will work at all. I’m sure you can see why! Be genuinely interested in going cycling even for the sake of just finding out what happens during the experiment! I mentioned gratitude earlier, but I can’t tell you to be genuinely thankful or grateful for your teen, for this time with your teen. I’d guarantee you’ll feel better and the situation will run more smoothly if you can find that genuinely grateful disposition in yourself 🙂
The other way to look at this is to ask what your teen stands to gain from this experiment? I hope you can see that if you follow the suggestions above, they stand to gain a great sense of accomplishment or achievement. These things are not only motivating to continue, but are aspects that are highly correlated to depression being present or absent in one’s life.
Q: And maybe conversely to the last question, how do we persuade ourselves to go cycling with our teen?
A: If we’re not cyclists how do we go about this? While there’s lots of info in my guide on how to start cycling at 50+ that applies to any age beginner, a better approach is to once again allow your cycling teen to take the lead. Again, they may or may not know everything there is to know about how to start cycling, but that’s not the point. The point is to show trust in them to work with you, to utilize their skill and expertise at whatever level it’s at. While I wouldn’t want to discourage you from reading my article above(!) I think it’s more conducive to our goals here to enlist the help of your teen. Because in this instance they may well know more. And why would we not leverage someone else’s knowledge or guidance irrespective of their age? All you gotta do is remember, the goal here isn’t to be an awesome cyclist, it’s to afford your teen the right circumstances under which they can open up. Seeking their help in how to start cycling (provided you’re genuinely interested in doing so!) is one excellent way of doing this 🙂
I totally understand if you’d have your own reticence or fear of going cycling if you hadn’t for a while. I wonder how you’d feel about confiding that to your teen? Might that be not a sign of weakness, but rather that you’re actually human after all, just like your teen? Check my article above for some further information on starting cycling. But I’d urge you to utilize the skills and/or knowledge your cycling teen already has. It’s the perfect occasion to do that 🙂
Q: What kind of bike ride ought I to do as an experiment?
A: I’d say that was dependent on what you and your teen collaboratively decide. Something you feel comfortable doing as a novice cyclist and something they’ve contributed to and are happy to see the results of. But take things easy, both in terms of the actual cycling – don’t try anything that’s likely beyond your current capabilities! – and in terms of striving for conversation. That’ll happen organically if you both enjoy the bike ride for what it is. Keep in mind the outcomes we thought about earlier whether that be having a laugh or learning something new or whatever you come up with. Continue to let your teen lead exactly as you’ve done so well until this final part of the experiment. And be flexible. It’s not super important, it’s just a little experiment. All results of which, no matter whether seemingly good or bad at the time, all count as knowledge to help you communicate in the most effective way with your teen, that’s all. You’ll do great 🙂
Are you the cyclist?
In this situation I’d imagine you’re the cyclist – to whatever degree – but your teen isn’t. While this may take a little more effort, the rewards can be great.
Q: How do we convince our teen to go cycling with us?
A: As above, it might be helpful to ask, why might they be reticent to go cycling with us? Again there’s this idea of embarrassment at being seen outside socially with a parent. This could foreseeably be exacerbated if they feel they’re encroaching into your territory, particularly if you’re already into your cycling. Do you wear cycling gear for example? Will they feel they’d have to dress in a way they’d feel uncomfortable doing maybe? It’s possible. Could you alleviate that concern by dressing down? Casual biking pants/trousers or jeans? Otherwise they could conceivably feel alienated by the cycling culture if they’re not part of that.
But I think it’s more than just dress and cycling culture. Putting myself in a teen’s place, I’d wonder might they have concerns about the apparent imbalance of “power and authority” in this situation. I mean as parents we’re the de facto experts. But that notion, if not handled sensitively, could be magnified here where you’re the cyclist and actually, you are the more knowledgeable. You follow me? While you may not be known for lording your knowledge over them, it could be a concern. If so, might they be fearful of feeling belittled, as though their cycling input was of little value because they’re inexperienced? If any of that were feasible, how would we mitigate against it?
- By finding the balanced level of authority for your teen while you’re planning and doing the ride. Does your teen have access to a bike? Does it fit and is it rideworthy? If not, consider – as described above – using that as an opportunity to work collaboratively with your teen in a little mini project to organise a bike or fix up a used bike. If you can temper your parental controls it’ll show your teen in the clearest way that you can be trusted to be a good cycling companion if they chose to go riding with you, right? I mean, we all gotta face facts that the reason our teen might be reticent to do this with us could be that they just don’t like how it could work out. Whether that’s a correct appraisal of the situation or not, they may envisage such a bike ride, or imagine us in general to be not much fun. Hard to hear, and won’t apply to us all, but worth considering. I’m all about being honest with myself. I’d encourage that in you too for the sake of you both 🙂
- By being supportive and be encouraging towards your teen. While I don’t like being prescriptive, there’s really no room in this experiment for harsh criticism. You may have been brought up with critical parents, you may have your own harsh critical inner voice – most of us do! But kick it out when it comes to our bike ride, let it all go if your teen is indecisive over a bike, or only rouses to a so-so enthusiasm for the experiment. Regardless of the precursors, just curb the critical voice. It doesn’t belong here. Actually it doesn’t belong in you at all. But that’s another article for another website! Use this time to be supportive, to tell your teen well done. And while you’re at it, tell yourself that too. I bet you don’t do that enough! It might seem like a small step to you as a cyclist that they’re contemplating or actually doing a bike ride, but it could be a big thing to them, so keep encouraging. You’re doing great 🙂
- Be sincere or go no further. As above, teens are adept at spotting insincerity. As parents and caregivers we can try to praise and for the right reasons too, but if you’re someone who might pay lipservice, I’d suggest instead of doing that, to think of how proud you are of your teen. Just in a general sense. Praise is simpler when it’s underpinned by genuine love and pride #teachinggrannytosuckeggs 😀
- As mentioned, if you see everything here as a team effort it’ll be best. But that’s not the kind of unsporting teams we sometimes witness where one member criticises the other for not doing enough! That’s not a team effort, that’s an ego running loose. Collaborative means everybody wins.
Q: What kind of bike ride ought I to do as an experiment?
A: Same as above, just whatever kind and around whatever route you and your teen collaboratively decide. You can suggest options and see if you get their buy-in. I think whatever kind it is, it ought to leave your teen feeling a sense of achievement. That doesn’t mean they have to complete 10K feet of elevation in one ride, just one that’s enough to leave you both feeling you deserve congratulations. And don’t forget those congratulations either! If you’ve managed this you both deserve it. Have a little race to the end of the road or the next speed limit sign or whatever. Let your teen win if they wouldn’t already 🙂 But always keep in mind the purpose of the ride. It isn’t to win, or to achieve any great biking feat. The purpose is to have allowed your teen space to open up. To communicate easily and without hindrance. If you can bear some of these points in mind and figure how to do that, you’ve done great. And you’ll know it.
Consistency is key
If you can commit to a routine of cycling with your teen so much the better. I don’t think it matters how frequently the ride happens. I’m a fan of show don’t tell. And I think by turning up for the ride at some specified regular interval besides “yeah that was fun, we must do this again” shows you’re prepared to put in the effort. I hope it’s not too much of an effort though! Is it? 🙂
What’s the next step?
Figure out how to broach the whole entire subject with your teen. There are all kinds of angles to come at it.
- I need some more exercise than I’m getting, would you be willing to help me start cycling?
- It’s a little lonely cycling during the week on my own, how would you feel about coming on a ride with me for company? Just a short one?
By doing this, you’re offering a genuine reason why they’d bother doing this when there’s probably so much other cooler stuff to do, right? We’re calling on their empathy and understanding. I could be wrong, but I don’t think we can underestimate our teen’s ability to understand and to step in to help. That’s what I’m banking on here.
All I’d ask is that you completely set your ego aside. Make this all about them, not you, and you’ll find gratification, pride, love and above all else, wonderful communication with your teen will come from it. I’d love to hear how you get on if you try this one. I know I have and every time I did, I felt far closer to my teens, even if only for the duration of the ride, I think it had far-reaching effects overall in our relationships. I wish you well.
Ride safe, have fun, and cherish the company of your teen, David.