>Communicating with teenagers can be challenging, to say the least. Although most teens seem quite adept at communicating with other teenagers, talking to parents can be a somewhat different experience. For parents of teenagers, learning a little about teens can help make communication less frustrating and allow open discussions about important issues affecting the family. Using these tips should help parents to effectively talk with their teens.
Many times parents are not really listening when teens try to talk. Parents have so many tasks that keep them busy, and it’s easy to become distracted and not give full attention to what may be perceived as minor chatting. Often teens will give verbal and, more importantly, nonverbal clues about problems while engaging in normal conservation with a parent. If the parent is preoccupied and not really listening, the clues go unheeded and the parent doesn’t pick up on the problem the teen is experiencing. Actually listening, looking in the eyes of the teen, and engaging every day in normal conversation are important if parents are to effectively communicate with teens. Sitting down to dinner together away from television, radio or other distractions would be a good place to have conversation every day; if this is not possible, short talks before bedtime could work, especially if this practice is started while the child is young and becomes a tradition in the family. Talks don’t have to last a long time to be effective; just letting the teen know a parent will listen when he wants to talk is the important part of the process.
2. Don’t judge.
Many times teenagers do not want to talk about a problem because they think the subject will draw disapproval from parents. Learning to listen to children without judging and showing displeasure is an important step to getting children to listen to parents. Parents, of course, are sure to disapprove of some of the things that their teens do, and should certainly express concern, but not until the teen has fully discussed an experience or a problem. If a teen thinks a parent will immediately begin to rant on and on about certain issues, those issues will probably be avoided to stop unpleasant interaction with the parent. Listening to all of the teenager’s concerns, then calmly suggesting alternatives or disapproval at that time will let the teen know that the parent is ready to listen and hear him out, rather than always jumping to conclusions. Let the teen know that you will always value him as a person while still imparting your family’s values to the situation at hand.
3. Pay attention to language.
Often teens get put off by the language a parent uses in discussions. While a parent should be firm in setting boundaries and rules of conduct, this should be done in a positive, rather than negative, manner. Expressing pleasure in a teen’s willingness to abide by rules, showing praise, and using “we” words rather than “you” or “I” words, will all help make communicating with teens easier. Instead of saying “You did this wrong,” substituting “We need to work on this” will let the teen know the parent wants to be involved in solutions to problems, rather than just bossing around the teen. If a parent often loses control of his temper, uses abusive language, or uses frequent negative language, he needs to work on these problems if he wants to effectively communicate with his teenagers.
4. Have respect for teens’ ideas.
Many times a parent may oppose ideas that teens have because of inconvenience or because the idea is not one that the parent would have. Cherishing, rather than belittling, differences can lead to better communication with teenagers. Accepting the fact that a teen may have different interests, needs, and ideas than a parent’s and letting the teen know that the parent will support his interests will often open channels of communication as parents and teens talk about issues. Often parents are disappointed if their children do not show the same interests the parents had in the past; some parents even want to relive high school activities through their teenagers. If a parent excelled in sports in high school and her teen is instead interested in art, the parent should learn to show support and learn and talk about art instead of constantly lamenting the fact that the teen does not like sports. If a teen wants to paint her bedroom orange, a parent can help her select a tasteful shade if it’s time to paint, even if the parent prefers a more subtle color; this may be a major inroad to communicating about other issues as the parent and teen discuss the new decorating scheme. Showing genuine respect for teens’ ideas will allow them to feel competent to discuss just about anything with their parents; if parents constantly show disapproval for teens’ ideas, they will often shop communicating to avoid the negative vibes.
5. Sometimes compromise is necessary.
Parents who want to effectively communicate with their teenagers need to realize that compromise will sometimes be necessary on both sides. If a teen is forced to always give in to a parent’s demands, communicating desires to the parent will become pointless to the teen. Since people are different, differences of opinion are certain to occur; parents should work on learning to discuss these differences with their children without unnecessary criticism or belittling the ideas of the teen. Learning to talk through problems will lead to better understanding on both sides, and if the teen feels his side has been adequately aired and understood, he is more likely to compromise on some of his points. Parents should be willing to bend on some issues to accommodate the teen’s views; if a parent learns to compromise on issues that are not really that serious, then a teen will be more likely to give up something to honor a parent’s wishes later on.
6. Show care and concern.
All children need to know that parents actually care for their well-being. If a child gets the impression that a parent does not care, then connecting with the parent through meaningful conservation will probably not be a big priority. When a teen talks, parents should show that they care by listening, asking questions, and expressing care and concern in words. Many children rarely hear their parents say that they love them, are proud of them, and care about them. Some parents may think all children just instinctively know these things, and the messages don’t have to be expressed, but this is not true. Teenagers especially need to be constantly reassured that parents care about their welfare and are in their corner.
7. Learn to read nonverbal clues.
Sometimes teens reassure parents that all is good, but their body language does not say this. A parent who learns to read nonverbal clues can get information about what the teen is not saying out loud; some teens do a good job of hiding problems until a crisis occurs, and parents should always be on the lookout for silent clues. If a teen seems to be constantly unhappy, with a sad or sullen expression, shoulder shrugging in response to questions, and a gloomy tone of voice, then the parent should certainly pick up on this and try to find out what’s wrong. A teen who is experiencing a problem such as drug use, alcoholism, depression, pregnancy, lack of friends, failing grades, etc. will probably hesitate to bring up that kind of issue with parents; sometimes parents are the last to know about such serious problems. Spending time with a teen and trying to have at least a little conversation every day can help to prevent big surprises. Even if a teen is not a big talker, a parent who learns to read nonverbal clues can get an idea of how life is going in general that day; on the other hand, teens can also get an idea of what the parent is actually saying by reading body language.
Learning to appreciate all the good things about teens can help parents improve communication. If a teenager thinks his parent has a good impression of him and values him as a person, he will be more likely to converse with the parent about his life. All people like to feel appreciated and know that they matter to others, and teens are no exception, even if they sometimes seem embarrassed about showing affection and concern for other family members. Sometimes parents think that letting a teen know how much she is loved and appreciated will spoil her, or let her have the upper hand; however, self-esteem is largely based on perceptions that we get from other people, and expressing appreciation for a teen’s uniqueness is essential for development of a good self image and effective communication with parents.
Sometimes it’s difficult for a parent or teen to understand exactly what the other is talking about, and clarifying is important. An easy way to clarify is to rephrase; paraphrasing back to the teen what the parent thinks he said will allow the teen to say that he’s been misunderstood, if that’s true. Rephrasing also allows a parent to avoid extreme reactions that will stop the teen from engaging in further discussion of the issue; for instance, if the teen tells the parent he got a traffic ticket and the parent starts to rant about his insurance costs going up, then the teen will tend to stop listening. If, instead, the parent rephrases what the teen said, such as “You got a ticket, huh,” then the teen will be able to explain to the parent instead of being defensive. Clarifying each statement that the teen makes will allow the parent to guide the teen into suggesting possible steps for paying the ticket and increased insurance, avoiding future traffic tickets, etc. Clarifying leads to effective communication.
10. Stick with it.
Often when communication is not working well with teens, parents get the idea that it’s a hopeless problem. For those who grew up with not communicating well with their parents, learning new techniques is essential. If constant attempts to engage teens in conversation fail, parents should not stop trying. Even if a teen does not show response to a parent’s efforts, he is noticing that the parent cares, and will certainly notice if the parent gives up. An important consideration in a teen being able to tell parents about problems, concerns, and achievements is knowing that a parent is sincere in wanting to know about the teen’s life, so parents should never give up. Happiness in a family often depends on effective communication.
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