One of the most common things I hear from my teenage clients is – “I wish my parents would just listen,” “They do not understand,” “They still treat me like a little kid,” and “I don’t get a say in anything.” What I find so interesting is the parents perspective is often very different. They will often say – “My child never tells me anything”, “They would rather be on their phones than with their family, ” “My child treats me like their personal chauffer, maid, assistant, etc.” Communication with your teenager is not easy!
The teenage years are a difficult time to navigate for both the child and the parent. But it’s a crucial time in their development. Children are learning how to be more independent both in their actions and in their thoughts and feelings. They are trying to figure out how to best communicate and look to their parents for guidance, even if they do not out right ask for it. As a parent some of the most valuable teaching happens in modeling healthy communication. This can prove challenging because your teenager is pushing boundaries and pushing your buttons! The Child Mind Institute published this article with some valuable tools for effective communication. Also, I have listed some tips below that can be used in everday life in regards to healthy communcation with your teenager.
Listen to understand their emotions rather than to fix their problems.
Many times parents talk to your children instead of talking with them. There is a subtle difference. As a young child, more direction is needed, however, as a growing and maturing teenager the value is listening to understand rather than to respond or “fix”. Something helpful is to paraphrase back to them what you heard and share some empathy. Begin to work to hear the emotion in their conversations.
Example: If your child says “School is making me nuts because the teacher is so strict and expects me to know everything.” It may be easy for you to step in and reply “Should I talk to the teacher” or “Remember, that I expect you to succeed in school as well so you better step it up.” However, to show that you really heard them and that you understand the emotion that they are sharing this could be a better response, “I hear you say that school is really tough for you and that you are frustrated because you are afraid you won’t meet the expectations. That has to be really hard.” Your child is not looking for you to fix all of their problems, they are looking for support with their emotional experience. Once you provide some empathy, they will continue to ask for advice, if that is what they are seeking.
Take time to react.
You want your teenager to be able to talk to you about any topic or situation that arises for them. Be careful in how you react when they share something that you do not agree with or you feel is inappropriate for them at this age. Try not to make snap judgements or statements. This may in turn have them clamming up and become more hesitant to share with you in the future. If they share something concerning, that requires action on your part, take a break to regroup so that you can talk to your teen in a calm and open manner. This helps to open dialogue with them so that they understand your stance on the situation and your clear expectation of them concerning that particular topic.
Collaborate on rules, expectations and consequences.
You are the parent and you have the final say in what happens in your home. However, your teenager has an opinion of what is good and bad and some ideas about possible consequences. My guess is one of your goals as a parent is to teach your child the value of what is right and wrong. Now is a great time to talk through rules, chores, expectations and consequences. Your teenager is still a child and children need structure so it is very important that they know what your expectations are of them. They also need to know what happens if they do not meet those expectations. Open up a conversation with your teen and create that structure together. This can lead to them taking more ownership of their actions and gaining maturity and responsibility. You may be surprised at the rules they come up with as well as their own consequences.
Do activities together.
Continue to do activities with your teenager. Go see a movie that they choose. Try a restaurant that they want to try. Go try a new activity together. This helps to keep that connection and provides opportunity for more conversation. As you observe your teen, notice when they are having mood changes and ask direct questions to show interest.
The teenage years can undoubtedly be tough. They can also be the most rewarding as you help guide your child into adulthood. The most valuable tool you can model is being able to have healthy and effective communication with your teenager. Make sure you hear them and value their input. Work to hear and validate their emotional experiences. With some intentional practice, you can find a way to connect and have open communication with your teenager.
If you continue to struggle to talk with your teenager or you find that they have a tougher time working through their own issues, therapists Frances Chomic and Ida Holem are excellent with helping teenagers and families who are struggling with communication. Click here to schedule with one of them today.