Keys to Communicating with Your Teen
by Pattie Fitzgerald
Help! I’m surrounded by teenagers!! Maybe it’s a seasonal thing but this past summer I received lots of calls from concerned parents with teenagers getting ready to leave home for the very first time. Interestingly, the number one concern parents had wasn’t what they should talk to their teens about, but rather how they could talk to them. In other words, how does a parent have a meaningful conversation with their teen that doesn’t end with their offspring uttering that famous dialog killer “Whatever!”?
Adolescence is an awkward time filled with major changes and struggles for just about every teen. (Remember your teen years?!) They crave their independence, but deep down need to know that their parents (as provincial as we may be) are there to catch them when they fall. And the last thing that they want to do is admit that they need us. (So for now, forget about earning their undying gratitude - that comes later when they become parents!)
When teenagers were asked about communication with their parents, one word kept popping up time and time again. Teens want their parents to listen to them, and not just talk at them with advice, rules, or threats. They want to feel heard. They want to solve their own problems and want us to feel confident in their abilities.
Communicating with your teenager is a fine art, and like so many other parenting styles, there is no one way to success. But with a little patience, understanding, and sometimes a little trial & error, you can build a successful relationship with your teen – Really!!
Do’s and Don’t’s for Communicating with Teens
DO listen actively. Maintain eye contact and pay attention to their body language.
DON’T trivialize or put down their feelings. “That’s stupid” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” are sure-fire conversation stoppers.
DO actively empathize and mirror back their feelings. “It sounds like you’re really struggling with this issue”, “That must be hard”, etc.
DON’T jump in and offer easy solutions. Help your teen figure it out by themselves or together with you.
DO use “open-ended” questions to get dialog going, rather than questions that can be answered with just a yes or no response. Ask them to explain or give you an example if necessary.
DON'T overreact or fly off the handle if you hear something you don’t like. Remember they aren’t going to see everything your way.
DO treat your teen with respect – the way you would expect to be treated.
DON’T lecture or nag. Avoid comments like “you always do such and such…”
DO use “I” statements such as “I get concerned when…” or “I feel…” instead of “you need to do this”.
DO ask them how you may be able to help. Sometimes they want to tell you exactly what they need, other times all they want is a sounding board.
DO remember to take a deep breath and count to 10 before you get completely frustrated and mutter an exasperated “Whatever!” In other words, don’t lose your sense of humor. As the parent of a teen, you’re gonna need it now more than ever!
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