Maintaining an open dialogue with your growing child is vital in order to thrive in the upcoming years.
Raising a teenager can sometimes feel like walking though a maze. Parents are constantly confronted with unexpected twists and turns, and sometimes feel as though efforts lead to nowhere. Although adolescence is challenging for parents and teens alike, there are steps that parents can take to navigate the teen years more smoothly.
Open and honest communication is essential for surviving – and thriving – during the teen years. By learning how to speak openly with your teen about difficult topics, you can both easily get through these years. Here are some recommendations for improving communication with your teenager:
Listening is probably the most important skill a parent can have. Understanding what your child is communicating or even what they’re not is crucial to assessing where your child is emotionally at any given time. Silence can send as loud a message as an outburst. Parents must ask themselves: what did our child talk about in the past and why isn’t he talking about it anymore? What particular topics prompt him to shut down?
Talk About the Tough Topics
Parents often become guarded about difficult topics such as drugs and sex because they feel that talking about it will prompt their child to start thinking about or experimenting with them. The reality is that children are bombarded with images, discussions and opportunities to get involved in dangerous activities every day. Talking about them openly and honestly may encourage them to speak to you before they act.
If you don’t feel informed enough on a particular topic, then seek out resources such as friends, relatives, pastors or books to help you gain the knowledge necessary to be more comfortable with discussing it with your teen. With the information you need, make difficult topics a part of day-to-day conversations. It is much harder for teenagers to adjust to the sudden interjection of potentially embarrassing subjects than it is if you talk about them regularly.
Events in everyday life offer opportunities for discussion that should not be passed up. For example, situations that your teen’s friends are experiencing or books and movies about difficult topics can be good ways to initiate a conversation. Parents should also talk about their own mistakes with their children to demonstrate that learning from mistakes and making better decisions in the future are the ultimate goals of growing up.
Topics to be Aware of:
- Relationships with friends and family
- School/plans for the future
Keep Your Cool
Despite your best efforts, there will still be times when your child may be uncomfortable or even obstinate when it comes to things. When this occurs, parents must attempt to remain calm. Even if your teen displays hostility or aggressive behavior, strive to remain calm and in control of your emotions. Remember that you are a role model for how your child handles conflict in the future. Parents should avoid arguments even when their child is putting all of his effort into making the discussion combative.
If necessary, give your child time to cool off. Parents should not push to continue a discussion if it is escalating to the point of screaming or physical violence. When your child has calmed down, ask how he is feeling or what is going on in the situation. Make every effort to listen without interruption or judgment.
Give Teens a Voice
Remember that it is OK for your child to have feelings – even when those feelings make you uncomfortable. Parents should acknowledge their teen’s feelings and realize that understanding his feelings does not necessarily mean that you feel the same way.
It is important that parents not act shocked or launch into lecturing when talking to their teenager. Lecturing seldom serves to do anything other than make him less likely to talk openly with you. Make your views and value systems known, but should do this without neglecting the child’s feelings.
Seek Outside Help
If you are still having trouble getting through to your teen, it may be time to consider outside help. Any of the following situations is a good reason to seek assistance: your child displays sudden, unexplained changes in behavior; a structure of basic rules and consequences is not working; other people are stating concerns; you suspect drug use; your child has become aggressive with you; or your child is in legal trouble.
Forming a relationship based on trust and respect through daily interaction and interest in your child’s activities is the most important thing a parent can do to make communication easier. Even in difficult times, remember to express your love for your child and enjoy the challenge of being a parent.
Robyn Warner is an operations director for Three Springs, Inc., a provider of adolescent treatment programs in eight states, including Tennessee. She currently oversees the day-to-day operations of four therapeutic programs. For more information about Three Springs, call 888-758-4356 or visit threesprings.com.
WHAT TO SAY AND DO
Ask your teen questions about his life:
- What’s happening in school?
- How’s your relationship with ______ coming along?
- Tell me more about what was bothering you the other day.
Tell your teen what you hope for in your relationship:
- I know I haven’t given you enough of my time, but I’d like to change that starting right now.
- I want to know more about what you’re thinking, what’s worrying you and what you want.
Try sharing your thoughts and problems with your teen:
- May I ask your advice on a problem I’m having at work?
- I wanted to ask you what you thought about that movie we watched on TV last night.
Whatever your teen says to you, don’t shut him out:
- Why are you feeling that way?
- Those are harsh words. Do you really mean them?
- I don’t care what you say as long as we keep talking.
Ask your teen for advice on improving your communication:
- What do you think we can do to make it easier for us to talk to each other?
- I want what I say to make sense to you, so tell me when you don’t understand.
Source: How to Say It to Teens: Talking About the Most Important Topics of Their Lives by Richard Heyman, Ed.D. (Prentice Hall Press).