The relational distance between parent and child in the teen years can take a nose –dive in a such a short amount of time. Things working against the relationship can be developmental limitations in the teens’ brains, the battle of wills, hectic schedules and lack of balance in between home, work and social life for families. With all of the physical, emotional and social changes going on for them, teens can be emotionally explosive one minute and then very perceptive, level-headed, matter-of-fact the next. It’s no wonder that parents might find it a little scary to interact with their teen(s) from day to day. Here are some tips to improving communication with teens.
- Don’t lecture your teen, have a conversation. When parents complain “my teenager doesn’t want to talk to me,” what they’re really complaining about is “my teenager doesn’t want to listen to me.” Conversation involves at least two people listening AND talking.
- Show respect for your teen’s opinions.Teens are more open to communication when they feel valued.
- Keep it short and simple. Teens will tune you out if they feel you don’t value their perspective or feelings. If the habit on lengthy conversations (lectures) takes root, teens will begin to avoid and not want to engage with parents.
- Be yourself.Don’t try to talk like your teens or their friends.
- Ask curious questions…not loaded questions. Don’t ask loaded questions that put your child on the defensive like, “Why can’t you get up on time?” “What’s wrong with you?”Rather, curious questions like “So show me how you got to that decision” “Help me understand what you were feeling.”
- Clarify. Paraphrasing back to your teen what you think they said will allow the teen to say that they’ve been misunderstood
- Be collaborative in your problem-solving. “How can we work on this?” “What are some of your ideas for making things better?” ”WE can figure this out…”
- Listen, listen…and listen more! Teens actually have a lot to say but they have to trust you with the small stuff before they’ll trust you with the big stuff. If you think you might need to listen more…you do! Listen for understanding
- Listen with the goal of understanding—not just to assess right or wrong, guilt or innocence. As a parent, we will face times when those assessments need to be made but that shouldn’t be the only goal of listening
- Seize the moment. With kids and teens, it’s important to be around enough–and available enough (Note: Parents–being on electronic devices does not send the message that you are available)–to capitalize on moments of connection that invariably come up when you least expect them to. With teens, their “prime time” is often later in the evenings…I know, parents—just when we are shutting down. This means you may need to make some adjustments in order to have the energy for those talks.
- No matter how much you think you know your child, be willing to let your child teach you about themselves.
- You are the adult– be the adult. Even in the most heated situations, do not engage in name-calling or teasing. Comments like “Your stupid!” or “Don’t be an idiot!” can have a huge impact on kids when it’s coming from their parents.
Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart but there are so many joys that can come in this crucial part of their growing up process. Don’t give up now! They still need you (they just don’t know it much of the time).