Parents are always looking for ways to open up the communication with their teenagers. Here are five ideas that are all within your control. Some may represent an attitude shift, some are tactics you can apply; all have the potential to dramatically improve the communication between you and your teen.
Stephen Covey has provided us with some of the best advice for improving all communication: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”* This is especially helpful to apply to your communication with your teens.
Parents have a tendency to react quickly sometimes, and this can work against your desires to improve communication. Your child comes home with “D” on a Spanish test. Before you jump too quickly, ask what happened. Your new driver is late for curfew. You are pacing and sick with worry. It’s easy to jump down her throat when she comes in the door, even if you are relieved to see her. Listen to her first. Not only can you save face, she learns that you will listen to her and respect what she has to say.
“Be there” despite rejection
Sometimes parents’ feelings are hurt if it feels like their teenager is rejecting them. These dynamics may be a natural part of the process; as teens learn to stand on their own and develop a reliance on their own decisions, parents can feel a sense of rejection… and sometimes parents pout or turn away feeling as though they are not needed. But even through these hurt feelings we must continue to reach out to our kids. They are in the midst of dramatic developmental shifts, they are sometimes overwhelmed with the events, feelings, changes that are part of their life. Parents need to “be there” – reaching out, letting them know they are loved, no matter what. Don’t misread their cues by minimizing your communication; continue to “be there” because they need you more than ever.
Listen with your heart; trust your intuition
You trusted your intuition when your child was young. Remember that conversation with the doctor when you knew he had an ear infection even though the exam didn’t show it? Parents of teenagers sometimes allow stereotypes about teenagers to carry more weight than their own intuition. Don’t let this happen to you. Even though your teenager is changing, you still know him better than anybody else does. If your intuition tells you he’s still a good kid, don’t fall into the trap of distrusting him. If your intuition tells you something is wrong, take action and get help. You need to trust all your faculties and to develop the ability to “listen” on all available wave lengths.
Go ahead and Negotiate – it’s good!
It’s perfectly appropriate for parents with teenagers to negotiate with them. Teens deserve the opportunity to have input into the rules that apply to them. As they mature the rules change, and their ability to negotiate gives you insight into your child’s level of maturity. This is valuable information for you. You are also helping your teenager develop important life skills.
Negotiation is also good because it requires parents to examine the rules they are applying and to intentionally and thoughtfully change them as teens develop. This doesn’t mean that you cave in to pressure or that you allow them freedom that doesn’t feel right. But it does mean you discuss the rules and the reasons behind them.
Sometimes indirect communication works best
Not all teenagers can sit down for heart-to-heart talks. In fact, probably very few can. How do parents cover sensitive ground when kids won’t stop long enough to even talk? Get comfortable with indirect communication. Write a note, a letter, an e-mail. Plan a short conversation when your teen is in the car with you. They listen to everything you say even if they don’t look like it. You may need to give them time to absorb what you are saying without having to respond to you. Get used to indirect communication, it’s often the most effective way with teens.
*Covey,Stephen, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
© Sue Blaney
About the Author:
Sue Blaney is the author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride, a book/workbook/program that guides parents to examine the range of issues they are likely to face. For information on this unique and flexible resource visit our website http://www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com