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,” says a lot about teenagers. Communication with them can be difficult, let alone have them see our point of view.
For a parent, effective communication with a teenager can become one of the most emotionally demanding aspects of raising a child. Just when you are starting to feel comfortable that your child is grown-up, you are faced with this little adult in your house that you sometimes barely know! It’s like moving in a maze- you navigate one corner, and you are then faced with another crossroad. But as a parent, you can make this phase better, starting with effective communication with your teenager. It may sometimes feel like you and your teen are speaking two different languages, but ask yourself these questions to see if you are doing your part.
Do I give enough quality time to my teen?
Whether you are a stay-at-home or a working parent, 24 hours in a day can go by like 12! With demanding family schedules, we tend to think that the time we spend with our kids while driving them around, at the dinner table, or being present at athletic and school events is good enough. But how much time are you giving your teen when you are not at the computer, on the phone or driving? No one likes to talk to a preoccupied person, and your teenager doesn’t either. So, even if it is just a few minutes each day, talk to your teen with focused interest regarding their life- one on one and on a regular basis.
You talk to your teenager, but do you listen to them first?
It is often tempting to offer advice and fix the situation for your child, but sometimes all your teen needs is an active listener. First, ask them whether they want to just talk about it or discuss the matter and respond accordingly. Once your teen feels comfortable talking to you about their problems, the next step that usually follows is an interactive discussion. Be patient!
Do you try to see your teenager’s point of view?
Remember how you felt when you were a teen. Some of your child’s issues may seem absurd or trivial, but for them, it is the cardinal issue in their life now. Respect that and be supportive. Cut back on ‘I told you so’ with your teenager; it can become a deal-breaker for the rest of the communication.
How is your non-verbal communication?
Make eye contact with your teen when something is being discussed. Your facial expressions during discussions should convey genuine interest. Once that trust is established, the communication becomes more effective. A simple nod, a smile, or a pat on their shoulder during a discussion can go a long way. A judgmental approach will make your teenager think twice before coming to you about another matter.
How comfortable are you approaching the matter as a team?
Sometimes your resolution can be the best solution to an issue, but your teen might have a different approach to the matter. But when dealing with a young adult, try to meet your child halfway if it is reasonable. Attempting to resolve it your way just to exert parental control will, slowly but surely, damage the threads of communication.
Do you have fair arguments, or is it ‘because I am the parent’ all the time?
As with other relationships at home or work, your interaction with your teenager needs to be respectful. If you expect your child to be fair, you need to do the same. Being domineering because you are the parent will 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.
Are you able to say ‘sorry’ when you are wrong?
This is a frequently missed step in communication while trying to gain your teenager’s confidence. When you have done or said something wrong, a simple and genuine sorry will earn your teenager’s trust and respect.
How often do you make your teenager feel appreciated?
Simple compliments about school achievements, helping at home or their activities can be valuable to your teen’s self-esteem. Your adolescent is trying to fit in and feel approved. Involve your teen in some family decisions, whether choosing paint colors for the house, furniture or vacation plans. Verbalize when you appreciate their input.
Communication is a two-way street. We advise our kids to communicate with us, but we can sabotage that communication if we take the ‘do as I say’ one-way path. Sometimes the actions and decisions of your teenager may not be suitable for negotiation and may require a firm and assertive approach. But overall, an accessible and considerate attitude can facilitate effective communication with your teenagers.