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Parents: Improving Communication with Your Teen


As parents, we’re all learning to navigate this ever changing relationship with our children. Parent-teen conflicts are hard on everyone involved. We struggle with verbal attacks from our teen, and our teen becomes frustrated because of we attempt to harness control. What everyone needs to know (parents and teens) is that this is normal, and parent-teen conflict does not dictate a good or bad relationship. It’s how the parent-teen conflict is handled that shows whether there is a good relationship or not. If you’ve been struggling with your teenager or tween, consider these tips on how to improve communication. It may just be what saves our sanity the next few years.

Try To Understand The Way Teens Are Thinking

The first step in improving communication with teens is to understand the thoughts going through their mind. We can then prepare ourselves to react in a way that doesn’t result in retaliation.

Many teens think:

  1. Oh man! They want to talk about (grade, drugs, alcohol, or relationships)? Ugh….

  2. My parents have no idea.

  3. If they say something to upset me, I’m out of here!

  4. I wish they would just listen to me!

While parents are thinking:

  1. You can say what you need to say when I am finished talking.

  2. I know what is best for you.

  3. If you do what I say, you won’t have a problem.

  4. You will do it because I told you to do it.

  5. My teen hates me, and I don’t know why. I’ve done so much for him.

  6. He isn’t old enough to know what is best for him. He doesn’t understand.

  7. I wish he would just do what I say like he used to.

  8. I wish he would just listen to me!

These statements express control. The developmental stage of adolescence is taking control from parents, so they can be independent. It’s an important part of getting ready for adulthood. As a parent, it’s upsetting to think control is not in our hands anymore. On the flip side, it’s very frustrating for teens to feel like they have no control over their lives.

Both parents and teens want to be listened to, and in most parent-teen conflict situations, no one is listening. They are talking at each other instead of with one another.

This is a very important point to remember: teens hear maybe 1% of what we say, but they hear 100% of how we say it.

To best communicate our thoughts, we should prepare how we’re going to present our case and especially consider the delivery.

As a parent, consider this:

  1. What do I want to accomplish from the discussion?

  2. What assumptions do I already have about it?

  3. What is my attitude about it?

  4. From past experiences, how will my teen react?

  5. What have I done that has made the situation the way it is?

Avoid Shaming and Harsh Accusations:

  1. YOU shouldn’t have done that.

  2. YOU are making the wrong choices in life.

If we aren’t careful with our delivery, most situations with our teen can be self-defeating. We may not really know what we want to get out of the discussion, we may be reacting to something that isn’t entirely accurate, we may be presenting our case negatively, and we may not handle our teen’s reaction to our negativity in the best way possible. So how do we prevent this?

Active Listening Helps

It may be hard, but getting into the habit of actively listening to our teen can help us get what we want. Active listening includes:

Using eye contact.

We shouldn’t multitask when speaking with teens. They should feel as though they are the most important thing to us at that moment.

Reviewing what the teen is saying.

When our teen says something, we should reiterate it to show we are paying attention and to ensure understanding. For example, if she says, “I feel like you are always yelling at me.” We can say, “I understand you feel as though I am always yelling at you.” Do not continue that with “…but it’s because…” Instead, we need to just stop there and let her continue. Or ask “What would be a better way for me to communicate with you when I’m frustrated?”

Asking questions.

When we ask questions, it shows we are genuinely interested in getting answers. We should start asking more questions about our teen’s life and keep them positive. If she get’s home late, it’s better to start the conversation with asking her how her evening was, rather than why she is late coming home. Questions that make our teen feel guilty or shameful will only lead to defensiveness that will likely make our teen want to retaliate. Start conversations on a positive note and ease your way into the discussion about curfew.

Provide encouragement and praise when appropriate.

When our teen says something positive or has done something good, we should praise him. Children look to us for approval, especially in adolescence when teens want independence. They want to please us, even though our choices may not reflect that all of the time. If we’re able to show them what we approve of, he will do more of that, unless he feels he needs to retaliate. This is why good communication between parent-teens is important.

Validation goes a long way.

We can’t be afraid to validate our teen’s feelings with, “Yikes! That must have been so hard for you.” It’s important to be a source of support as well by offering our assistance, rather than giving it right away. Saying, “How can I help you?” is better than saying, “This is what I am going to do.” It’s good for us to always find a way to boost our teen’s confidence. Identify strong skills and talents and remind our teen about them regularly.

The hardest part of actively listening is allowing our teen to take over the discussion. You relinquish control over it. We do not focus on what you want to say, but what our teen is saying. We don’t judge. We don’t attack. We must remain calm, composed, and positive.

As hard as it is for parents to grasp, children grow up to be their own person with different opinions from their parents. If parents understand this and see their children as separate individuals, it’s much easier to respect their views. Try these tips to improve communication with your teen. It may just be the secret to a more peaceful parent-teen relationship.

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