Effectively communicating with teens

Communicating with teenagers can be like driving in a dense fog. If you are very careful, you can navigate into a safe zone. There is a high likelihood, however, that you could become disoriented and hit a brick wall.

The teenage years are overflowing with paradox and contradictions. The parental angst while attempting to reach some competent level of understanding in these precarious years is mild compared with what the teenager is experiencing. He is caught between an outgrown childhood and not yet qualifying for adulthood. He is taught to make his own judgments and form his own opinions, and then reprimanded when he tries to do so.

Communication is the answer to resolving most issues between parents and their semi-adult offspring. There are two components to satisfactory communication; talking and listening. With some effort, most parents become quite adept with listening. Talking, on the other hand, can often run the relationship with the teen into a ditch, bringing all future communication to a standstill.

Here are some phrases a parent will not want to use with a teenager:

“As long as you are under my roof…”

These words are an open invitation for a teenager to shut down and move out. If your teen cannot physically remove himself from “under your roof,” you can be assured he will become mentally absent and unavailable for further discussion. The philosophy, “My roof, my rules” will encourage teenage rebellion.

“When I was your age…”

The parent may be attempting to set example and impart words of wisdom from his own experience, but the teen’s interpretation of this phrase will be that the parent is “preaching,” out of touch with reality, and has a total lack of understanding of the teenager’s life. Beginning any sentence with this phrase is regarded as criticism from the teen’s perspective.

“Because I said so.”

This is perhaps the most lethal of the three deadly phrases. This statement conjures up a lack of control over his own life from the teen’s point of view. Concrete reasons the teen can assimilate, but a dictatorship mentality on the part of the parent is the ultimate turn off to any future discourse.

Listening is the most valuable component of conversation with a teenager. Allow the young adult to initiate the communication and resist the urge to interrupt before he fully expresses his point of view. Respect his opinions and voice approval whenever possible.

If there is a decision to be made, or conflict to resolve, adopt the habit of giving yourself time to mull it over. Even if you come back with an opposing viewpoint, your teen is apt to appreciate your consideration.

Be consistent in the areas of discipline and decision making. Your teen will realize choices and decisions are based on your values rather than your current mood.

Always avoid sarcasm when conversing with your teen. If an apology is in order, acknowledge your error and say “I’m sorry.” Your teen will feel respected and show respect in return.

Parents who consistently communicate with their teens in this respectful manner and avoid the trap created by dead end phrases of negativity will be able to help their young adult through the turbulent teen years with decreased emotional turmoil.

Establishing good communication with the teen insures the teen will turn to the parent with his questions and concerns, knowing he will be treated with respect and an element of trust. Teens in modern society have many more pitfalls and challenges to cope with than in simpler times of previous decades. Knowing his parent will “be there” with an open mind and understanding spirit is the most valuable backup system for a teen.

What you don’t say is often more important than what you do say and it is possible you and your teen will both emerge from these challenging times unscathed, and possibly even friends.