At a time when your teenagers may opt to speak to their friends more than you, it’s hard to be proactive in communicating with them
The only thing more confusing than being a teenager is being mom to one. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe I was just an impossible teen and am still trying to make it up to my poor mom.
But, the facts remain that there will be conflict as your teen grows into his or her own (new) skin and challenges your authority. It can easily lead to screaming matches, tears and anxiety. For both of you.
So, without assigning blame, here are some insights and tips to help parents to talk to their teens without it escalating into a Hiroshima-worthy argument:
Help them to develop their reasoning
They’re transforming from a black-and-white thinking pattern to becoming more critical and objective. This can cause a huge amount of turmoil (both inside them and in the family dynamic). They might become really worked up over something you feel is trivial. This is all part of the process of refining their reasoning abilities.
Be available to talk when your teen is ready. Put down your phone, ignore the dog, tell the other kids you need time alone
What you can do:
- Remember that your teen might just be working through a thinking process that’s new to him or her.
- Commend him or her for thinking for themselves by saying something like, “I like how your mind works, even if I don’t agree with you all of the time.”
- Help your teen to examine their reasoning by asking leading questions like, “Would the way you’re thinking about XYZ apply in a different situation?” Allow them to think about this question for a while, and maybe even raise some examples of different situations in which their way of thinking would and wouldn’t work.
- Don’t expect an instant turnaround or agreement. It may take a while for your teenager to develop the type of thinking ability you’re encouraging. And, there will always be some things that you’ll never agree on. That’s OK. Your teen is allowed a different opinion. They’re not your robot.
- They might not admit to agreeing with you at first. Don’t expect that or an apology. Just carry on training and refining gently.
Encourage them to form convictions
Teenagers are usually starting to think about their life as an adult – leaving home, finding a job, falling in love. So, the best thing that you, as a parent, can do is to create an accepting environment in which they can form and express their convictions.
Positive, mature convictions will really protect them and help them to make the best decisions.
What you can do:
- If your teen has stated a conviction that you disagree with, rather than arguing, state their conviction back to them. You can ask, “Am I understanding you right? Do you feel that…?”
- Once you’ve really understood their viewpoint, you can ask them why they feel that way or what’s made them believe that. They might express an opinion or point you hadn’t considered, or you could discover that they’ve misunderstood something completely.
- If it’s not an important issue and you just have different opinions, it’s best to leave it alone. It’s not essential that you agree on everything. They’re their own person, and should feel respected for having their own conviction, even if it’s different to yours.
Teens may quickly learn that nagging or rebelling wears you down and they get what they want. Although it can feel exhausting, it’s crucial that you be consistent. When your teen knows that you’re not a walkover, they’re less likely to argue over trivial things. But, you also need to be reasonable. Listen to your teen’s way of thinking and consider if you could adjust a little.
So, for example, don’t simply allow them to keep coming home after their curfew without repercussions. But, it will be positive if you can sit down and discuss their curfew, understand each other’s view, and perhaps adjust the time now that they’re a bit older.
What you can do:
- Communicate openly and in a neutral environment (and mood) about decisions that need to be made. When your teenager is involved in the decision, he or she is much more likely to cooperate with it.
- If you’ve been inconsistent or unreasonable, apologise quickly and sincerely. If you admit your mistakes, your child will probably be more able and willing to admit theirs.
Teens may quickly learn that nagging or rebelling wears you down and they get what they want. Although it can feel exhausting, it’s crucial that you be consistent
At a time when your teenager may opt to speak to their friends more than you, it’s hard to be proactive in communicating with them. Maybe your “chats” have just developed into arguments in the past, and you feel like keeping the peace means not trying to talk to your child. But, that’s counterproductive.
Studies have actually shown that, even when teens say they don’t want to talk to their folks about their issues, they actually value their parents’ advice above anyone else’s.
What you can do:
- If your teen has mentioned something significant or personal to his friends in front of you, bring the topic up again when you’re alone and try to delve deeper. Be gentle, though. You never want him or her to feel like you’re eavesdropping on them.
- Start with positive commendation and an expression of love. This will soften them to open up to you more. So, if you want to broach the subject of their grades, start with something like, “You’re so good at English, I loved reading that essay you wrote. You’re my creative star! How do you think we can get a bit more creative with your science?”
- Be available to talk when your teen is ready. Put down your phone, ignore the dog, tell the other kids you need time alone. Do what you need to do to make them feel heard and valuable.
- If your child struggles to talk to you, go for a walk or cycle with them. It’s easier for almost anyone to open up when they’re not making eye contact and trying to read your expressions.
- Really listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Ask questions until you are 100% sure that you understand their viewpoint. Assume nothing.
- Speak respectfully to your child and don’t mock or berate them. Avoid statements like, “It’s about time you stopped acting like a baby”, “You’re being childish / selfish / ridiculous” or, “Here we go again with your whining / arguing / attitude”.
- Open up to your teen. Tell them about your day, what frustrated you, what made you laugh, how you felt about certain things. Once you open up to them, they will be more likely to do the same in return
Teenagers are special. They’re becoming their own people and it can be incredible to watch. But, along the way, you may find yourself in the foetal position more than once as you try to make sense of it all. Hang in there. It’s all worth it in the end.