Being a teen is hard to navigate, and just as difficult is being the parent of a teen. Learning to communicate with each other can feel nearly impossible, but the reality is both of you are humans with emotions. Starting with that thought and adding on these few tips and techniques can create a positive impact on relating to each other and effectively communicating with your teen.
- Listen. I’d like to think this is self-explanatory, but it actually can be a very difficult skill to achieve. Be physically and emotionally available to your teen to listen, without feedback or judgment. If you ask a question, listen for the response. Do not wait until they are done talking just to be able to respond. Try turning off your own thoughts to just follow along with what they are saying. If they finish talking, try to remain silent which can be a sign that they can continue talking if they have more thoughts.
- Approach with understanding. Teens are in the midst of a slew of emotions with such great intensity it can be overwhelming. They want to feel their emotions are valid, so initiate conversations with doing just that. Acknowledge what they feel and let them know it is normal and can also be dealt with effectively. This does not mean that because of these intense emotions they can get away with anything by playing that “puberty card.” But, it does mean that you can say “I understand your friends want to go out tonight and you want to feel included, but I also know it is important for you to get a good grade on your math test.” This gives both concerns validity instead of assuming the good grades are more important. Try starting out a conversation with “what emotions did you feel today?” instead of “what did you do today?” to see the difference in response.
- Don’t lecture, have a conversation instead. Be available to your teen so that you have more opportunities to address something as it happens. This allows for less intensity when discussing topics because it can be addressed more than once. Encourage them to make their own choices, but to also use you as a sounding board. Take their opinions seriously, with an understanding that at the end of the day the parent still gets to make the decision in some matters.
- Teens want to be adults, so speak to them as so. Teens have phenomenal “BS” sensors, so don’t try coming up with excuses like when they were children – this will create a lack of trust and potentially resentment. Let your teen experience natural consequences, but be there to support them when they realize the reality of these. Admit if you do not have an answer to something. Speaking directly and honestly will create much more respect and a better understanding overall.
- Have boundaries. Teens are rapidly trying to figure out their identity, and this may also mean shifting boundaries often. Do not get discouraged, but do role model how you maintain your healthy boundaries.You are welcome to share about your own life, but within healthy boundaries, and when one of those boundaries is getting pushed be honest with your teen that you are choosing to no longer discuss that topic because of whatever reason you feel is necessary. Be open to also listening to your teen if they are uncomfortable with a topic, and make sure to respect their boundary. If they are trying to figure out what is an appropriate boundary, ask the direct question of “do you want to talk about this with me or with somebody else?” and respect their answer.
- Relate without comparing. You have been a teen, you are allowed to talk about what it was like when you were, but do not assume that your teen is going through the exact same thing. Times have changed, trends have changed, how teens relate to each other has even changed thanks to social media. If comparison occurs, this can often lead to a power struggle. If that happens, take a time-out with an agreement to return to the conversation after 20 minutes or both parties feel calmer.