If you are the parent of an adolescent, it is likely that you will experience problems communicating with them at some point before they become adults. This is one of the most common problems parents and teens have to overcome and is often the root cause of other problems.
Teens are going through one of the most significant transitions of their lives; they should be learning to make their own decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and to become independent from their parents. This can be stressful, confusing, and frustrating for them and you as they struggle to handle situations and make decisions without the confidence that comes from experience. When parents take this struggle and frustration as a personal rejection or label it as just a bad attitude, it can close the door to effective communication at a time when teens need that two way interaction more than ever.
One of the most common mistakes parents make is forgetting that effective communication involves both sending a clear message and trying to receive the message as intended. Parents need to be able to listen more than they talk. This can be a challenge when it feels like your teen is being evasive, belligerent, or withdrawn and may feel impossible when it seems like they aren’t listening to you.
Open the door to meaningful communication with your teen by:
- Being willing to let them talk with you about everything and nothing. Make sure you have a strong reliable communication channel for the important stuff by using it even when there isn’t anything of great importance to say.
- Focusing on your teenager, show them you are interested in their life and engaged in your conversation with them by giving them your full attention, listening without judging, and being as respectful to their views and opinions as you expect them to be of yours.
- Using supportive, engaging language that shows you are listening and invites your teen to ask for advice, seek support, and turn to you in times of trouble.
- Making sure you stay on the same page by using your own words to restate important points your teen makes to confirm you have a shared understanding.
- Involving your teen in decision making and troubleshooting as a team.
- Maintaining a daily connection by spending time together, even if it is only a few minutes before bed or the length of the car ride to school.
- Using shared interests and activities to provide teens with a pressure-free platform to talk. It isn’t always easy for them to bring up sensitive issues or to talk through things they are struggling with when they are on the spot.
- Respecting your teen’s privacy. This helps foster independence and creates a bond of trust that increases the likelihood that they will come to you when it really matters.
- Talking to your teen with respect as you would talk to another adult to help them learn how to communicate and interact like one.
Make sure that door stays open by avoiding the following:
- Talking down to your teen, demeaning their ideas, or using every conversation as a chance to criticize them. You, of course, can disagree and hold to your own standards and expectations of conduct, but let them know that you value what they say and think.
- Talking over your teen or interrupting them when they are speaking to you.
- Dismissing your teen’s point of view or their concerns.
- Being judgmental, criticizing their friends, belittling their beliefs, or overriding your teen’s opinions.
The bottom line is that you want to be the rock they rely on, the person they know they can always turn to when they are struggling or in trouble. In order to be that person for them, they need to have confidence that you will listen, you won’t fly off the handle, and you will help them find the right solution to their problem. The keys to fostering that type of relationship are being reliable, listening, staying calm, and helping them figure out how to solve the problems that matter to them.
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