It is hard for most parents to transition from having a child that is eager to tell them about their day to having a teen that may balk at questions from parents or retort with a quick yes or no answer. Communicating with teens can be challenging at times and can leave parents feeling frustrated. Parents often find themselves struggling with how to maintain a connection to their teen and are challenged to find ways to gain some insight into what is going on in their teen’s world. Unfortunately, this often results in parental and teen defenses, offensive attacks, or parents pressing for information, all causing further alienation from their teen. So, what is a parent to do? Here are some suggestions for parents about communicating with teens during the tenuous teen years:
- Enjoy every day opportunities for time with your teen. Teens often spend the much of time in their room, with friends, at activities and the like. Take advantage of time at dinner or time in the car together to have a conversation with your teen. When you teen is relaxing with TV or a movie, sit and watch it with them. These are good opportunities to talk and bond with them.
- Have a conversation that does not involve a goal. Often parents have so little time with their busy teen that they end up filling all of their conversational time by trying to share wisdom or teach them a lesson. Instead of using that time for lecture, spend time talking about fun things that don’t involve to do’s or should do’s. Communicating with teens should involve fun times too. Laugh and just enjoy each other’s company or let them teach you something new. Your teen will enjoy your interest in learning from them and it will be a form of communication that will ultimately bond you together.
- Refrain from criticism and judgment. Teens spend many hours in school with peers who, during the adolescent years, are full of judgment and criticism. Add to that, teens are trying to fit in at the same time that they are trying to stand out as unique. By talking with them in a way that feels judgmental, your teen may shut down. Before giving your perspective on a situation, first validate your teen and their feelings. Feelings just happen. They are not right or wrong. It is the behavior that follows that can go awry. So, when your teen is sharing their feelings with you, first acknowledge what they are feeling. Then respond, but do so in a way that is sensitive and objective.
- Communicating with teens as though they are young children will not work. Communicate with them as adults. Teens see themselves as grown and although they still have much yet to learn, they are capable of communicating on a level that is on par with adults. So, rather than talking with your teen as though they are still a child, communicate with language that lets them know you see them as mature and older. They will enjoy feeling that you speak to them the same way you speak with adults and will be more interested in talking with you.
- Think before you speak. Just as you would hope your teen would learn to think before they speak, the same goes for you. You do not always have to respond in the moment to everything your teen says or does. Sometimes it is much more beneficial to step away during moments when you are frustrated when communicating with teens and think about the best way to respond. Try to be aware of how your teen may feel in any given situation. Demonstrating empathy and understanding can go a long way toward building a bridge for effective communication and a trusting relationship, and it is also an excellent way to model appropriate communication and respect.
Just as teens are adjusting to the adolescent years, so are parents, learning how to develop a close and sustaining relationship with their teen. If parents are sensitive to the need for new dynamics when communicating with teens, then these years of the relationship can be rich and rewarding for both teen and parent.