How Parents Can Improve Communication with Teenagers
Many families experience a communication gap between parents and teenagers. Learn how to improve communication with your teenager.
A parent writes, "How can I stay connected to my teenager? The last thing he wants to do is to talk to me. Especially in today's world, I'm worried that we're growing too far apart."
Communication with Teenagers is Like Walking a Tightrope
Keeping the doors of communication open with an adolescent is tricky for most parents. This transitional time between childhood and adulthood tends to place barriers between generations. Among other things, parents must set limits, request information, and supervise activities. Our intention is to guide and stay informed. Yet, often the effect upon our teen is that they feel policed and intruded upon.
Communication Techniques For Talking to a Teenager
What's a parent to do to improve communication with a teenager? I offer a few pointers that pave the way to a smoother and more open dialogue.
Control your own reactions to unwelcome news. The quickest way to shut down communication channels with a teenager is to become harsh, blaming, and close-minded. Once we adopt an adversarial stance we trigger the same in our teen. A better rule-of-thumb is to remind yourself that to stay connected we must ensure that they view us as on their side even when we disapprove or feel disappointed in them. To protect the bond, I suggest that parents position themselves as coaches who review events, identify problem sources, and discuss strategies to prevent future trouble.
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Use bridge-building language.Teens are extremely sensitive to being lectured and "talked-down-to." Once they feel demeaned they may strike back with words that turn discussions into verbal battlefields. Parents can help keep communication free of conflict by using non-judgmental and bridge-building language. Expressions such as "let's try to figure out why this happened" or "maybe you have some ideas about how to solve this one" support the teen's self-esteem and communicate a parent's respect for their perspective. Parents are wise to avoid the typical traps that erode communication: jumping to conclusions, dragging up past problems, and predicting future mistakes.
Take advantage of connecting opportunities. As much as teens crave their privacy they remain dependent upon us for many wants and needs, including our approval and involvement. Pathways for connecting often present themselves to parents who keep their eyes and ears open to these opportunities. The currents of teenage life, such as peculiar music, racy television shows, and suggestive humor, are often staring us in the face. Next time, consider taking some time to stop, look, listen, and yes, even enjoy.
Pay careful attention to timing. Teens may be moody and sometimes unpredictable, but observant parents can determine when it's best to introduce difficult issues for discussion.
In many cases, timing is everything. Try to pick up on the signals suggesting that the doors to interaction are open or closed, such as their expression, tone of voice, and the present circumstances. If you're not sure, ask. Questions such as, "Is this a good time to talk about...?" communicates your understanding of their feelings and preferences. The result may be a more open and productive dialogue.
About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.
Last Updated: 31 July 2014
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD