Talking to your Teen – 8 Ideas for Moms and Dads

Mark Twain’s quote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years,” really says a lot about teenagers. They can be hard to communicate with, let see our point of view. For a parent, dealing with a teenager is surely one of the most emotionally demanding phases of raising a child. Just when you are starting to feel comfortable that your child is ‘all grown up’ and you can relax, you are faced with this ‘little adult in your house’ who you sometimes barely know! It’s like moving in a maze – you navigate one corner, and you are faced with another crossroad. But remember, you are still the parent and still very much in charge of the situation. You need to do things to make this phase in their life and yours better and that starts with effective communication with your teenager. It may sometimes feel like you and your teen are speaking two different languages, but first ask yourself these questions to see if you are doing your part:

1. Do I give enough ‘quality’ time to my teen? Whether you are a stay-at-home or a working parent, with teenage kids, 24 hours in a day can go by fast! With our busy schedules, we tend to think that the time we spend with our kids driving them around, at the dinner table, or being present at their sports and school events is good enough . But how much time are you giving your teen when you are not at the computer, or on the phone, doing dishes, or driving? No one feels good about talking with a pre-occupied person, and your teen doesn’t either. So, it can even be just a few minutes each day, but talk to your child with genuine interest about his life…one-on-one and on a regular basis. It sends a strong message to your kids that you really care about how they feel.

2. You talk to your teenager, but wait…do you listen to her first? As much as you are tempted to jump in, offer advice and try to ‘fix it all,’ sometimes all your teen needs is an active listener. Ask your teen whether she wants to ‘just talk about it’ or ‘discuss the matter’ and respond accordingly.  Once your teen feels comfortable about just talking to you about her problems, the next step that follows is interactive discussion. Be patient!

3. Do you make an effort to see his point of view? Don’t forget how you felt when you were his age. Remember… some of your child’s issues may now seem absurd or trivial, but it is the primal issue in his life now. Respect that. Be supportive and encouraging. Cut back on your, ‘I told you so’ with your teenager… they dislike that intensely and can be a deal-breaker for the rest of the communication.

4. How is your non-verbal communication? Make eye contact with your teen when something is being discussed. She is surely appreciating that. Your facial expressions in response to the information send the message that you are genuinely interested .Once that trust is established, the communication becomes more effective.  A simple nod, a smile, or a pat on their shoulder in the midst of a discussion can go a long way. Frowning or rolling your eyes can be so distasteful that your teen will think twice before coming to you about another matter.

5. How comfortable are you approaching the matter as a team? Sometimes the best solution to the problem on hand can be the way you want to resolve it and your teen might have a completely different approach to the matter. But you are dealing with a young adult. You can walk with them but can’t walk for the.  Meet your child half way if it is not detrimental to you or him. Don’t be a pushover but at the same time please try not to be too stubborn! You may win once or twice but you are slowly but surely damaging the threads of communication.

6. Do you have fair arguments or do you make sure you get heard as ‘the parent’ all the time? Just as in any other relationship at home or at work, your interaction with your teenager needs to be respectful. Lead by example. If you expect your child to be honest and forthcoming, you need to do the same. Being pragmatic and overbearing just because you are the parent might emotionally drive your teen away .You are always walking a fine line between being your child’s ‘friend’ and being the parental ‘authority’ over them.

7. Are you able to say ‘sorry’ when you are wrong? This is an often overlooked aspect in gaining the confidence of your teenager. Maintain diplomacy with an edge of firmness .When you have done or said something wrong, a simple heartfelt sorry makes your teenager feel that they can relate to you better and that you are human and easily accessible too!

8. How often do you make her feel appreciated? Simple compliments about their school achievements, helping at home, or any other activities can be endearing to your teen. Everyone likes to be appreciated, especially your adolescent who is constantly trying to fit in and feel approved. Involve your teen in some family decisions, like choosing the paint colors for the house, choice of furniture, vacation plans etc… Verbalize when you appreciate their input.

Communication is a two-way street. We tell our kids to talk to us, but then we sabotage the communication because we often try to take over and turn it into a ‘do as I say’ one-way path .We need to give our kids empathy, understanding and a soft place to fall. I agree that sometimes the actions and decisions of your teen may not be suitable for negotiation and need a more firm and assertive approach. When situations change, the approach needs to change, too. There is no manual that can teach you how to deal with teenagers in a fool-proof manner, but being cognizant of what we can do as parents to keep the lines of communication open and effective can go a long way in establishing a meaningful relationship with your teen.

Shobha Bhaskar, M.D. About Shobha Bhaskar, M.D.

Shobha Bhaskar, MD is a pediatric hospitalist with St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, who also sees patients at Children's Hospital facilities at Missouri Baptist Medical Center and Progress West Healthcare. Connect with Dr. Bhaskar on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs and .

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