Do you ever feel like your teenager isn’t hearing anything you say? As a mother of 3, I understand how frustrating it can be. As a family counselor, I also know that sometimes our kids tune us out because of what we are saying or how we are saying it. Here are 4 tips to help you open up those lines of communication with your teenager:
1. Don’t ask loaded questions. That progress report comes home and you see that your teenager is still not turning in his history homework. Your first reaction is to say, “Why aren’t you….?” Let me guess what response you get – “I don’t know”. Here’s a little known secret – the word why is your enemy. Don’t use it. In fact, try to forget you ever learned this word when it comes to talking and listening. Instead, try using a more open-ended question: “What do you think we can do to get that History grade up?” This is more likely to open up a discussion opportunity and a teachable moment.
2. Don’t disqualify what you’re trying to say. In other words, don’t use the word but. Here’s how it happens: your teen is explaining something and your response is, “I understand, but….“. When you say that you understand or “get it”, then say “but”, you have just told your teen that you really don’t understand and you’re just saying that to appear supportive. Teenagers are very literal, so you have to be certain that you are saying exactly what you want them to hear. An option might be to say, “I understand that this frustrates you. What ideas do you have to try to change it?” First, you have just validated their feelings, letting them know that you are hearing them. Second, you are showing that you value their opinion in finding a workable solution. Boom! You just opened up some great conversation with your teen.
3. Don’t take it personally. As a parent, I know this is very hard to do. We tend to see our kids’ behaviors as a reflection of our parenting. When they’re young, this is often the case. However, teens are strange, alien-like creatures who often do things that defy all logic and parenting techniques. They see themselves as “adults”, and tend to do things that they see as “adult” behaviors. You may not like the behaviors your child is exhibiting, but his behaviors are not necessarily a direct reflection on you. So, before you say something like, “How do you think this makes me look/feel?” , remind yourself that it’s not about how it makes you feel or look. It’s about your teen’s behaviors, and that’s what needs to be discussed. So, check your emotions at the door before you enter that conversation.
4. Don’t react. When you’re angry, it’s not the best time to talk with your teen. Give yourself a “time out”, if necessary, before you open up what you know will be a difficult conversation. Make sure that you are ready to be calm in the wake of your teen’s emotional responses. If you begin raising your voice and/or demanding explanations, you teen will shut down and stop listening. It can be hard to resist the urge to react, especially when your teen is rolling their eyes at you. So, again, make sure you’ve checked your emotions at the door and are in a calm frame of mind to hold a difficult discussion.
Remember that your teen is at a difficult stage. They are no longer little kids, but we think of them as our babies. They’re also not adults, but we expect them to think, act, and react in an adult manner. So, we treat them like our babies but expect them to act like our peers. Your teen is not your peer. They’re still learning, and it’s your job as the parent to pattern the adult behaviors you’d like them to learn, including healthy communication.