Raising a teen-ager is often thought to be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. Teen-agers are at that in-between stage of still being children, but pushing hard towards adulthood. They are beginning to make choices for their lives that could have a direct impact on their future happiness and well-being. It’s crucial to do everything you can during these years to stay in the loop of what is going on in their lives. Great communication is where it all starts.
The most important thing in keeping an open line of communication with your teen is to keep judgments and expectations to yourself unless your teen is really curious about how you feel. Going into lecture mode will automatically turn their hearing off and they will pay no attention to you whatsoever.
Teens need to feel that they have freedom and room to make up their own minds and make their own decisions. You certainly have to stay stern and clear with rules and boundaries, but allow your teen freedom on other issues as much as possible and talk with them about how the household rules change as they get older and show you how responsible they can be.
Learn to ask open ended questions. Most teens love to share how they feel about most things in life if they feel that what they are saying is being valued. Ask them what they think about top news topics, moral issues at a work, getting along with other people. Asking them about topics which you are particularly concerned with will help create an open conversation about significant knowledge they need, in a way they will be most receptive to hearing it.
For example, telling a teen “Don’t give out your home information to a stranger on Instant Messenger”, won’t get the point across as well as asking them what they think are the best ideas for protecting themselves against online predators. By allowing them to create their own program for staying safe online, they are 90% more likely to follow it than they are if you simply tell them what to do.
Usually the more you can encourage your teen to talk, the more they will find their own answers and you would be surprised how closely they will normally relate to your own opinions. The tricky part is to try not to force your opinions onto them, or correct them for actions that aren’t in direct violation of stated rules and boundaries. They will feel more open to talking with you when they feel like you respect their viewpoint and choices.
Review the rules and boundaries with your teen on a regular basis and allow them to negotiate anything that is not an absolute value. For example, let’s say your teen would like to change their curfew. You can review if they are responsible about keeping the curfew they do have, if they are keeping their grades up and any other relevant item that you need to see before you agree to a later curfew. If they are honoring those things, then allow them more time to be out, or if you don’t feel comfortable with allowing them a later curfew, let them know what they need to do first. Find solutions that you can both feel comfortable with and give them something to work towards so they have something to look forward to.
When there is a conflict, make sure you are exhibiting good communication skills, and insist that your teen do the same with you. The Four Step Method is a great approach:
1. Say “When I saw/heard this (Fill in the blank), then I feel like this (Use two or three feeling words such as happy/sad/mad).
2. What I would like is (State what you like).
3. Be quiet and allow the other person to repeat back to you what you heard.
4. If you feel they heard you correctly then it is their turn to talk.
It might take several times of going back and forth for everyone to feel heard about the issue. You do not have to agree with each other, just listen back and forth. When everyone does feel heard, then you can start listing solution ideas and work out a resolution.
Here is an example:
1. When I saw the D on your report card I felt disappointed, sad, and concerned.
2. I would like for you to get at least a C in all of your classes.
3. Your teen repeats back what they heard you say, it doesn’t have to be word for word verbatim, just the core feelings and why you feel that way, and what you want.
4. it’s their turn to tell you their feelings and what they would like.
When you are ready to make resolutions, your list for this issue may look like this:
1. Come home earlier to have more time for home-work.
2. Talk to the teacher more to get helps understanding how to get a better grade.
3. Set time to study with friends, or go to the library.
List as many resolution ideas as you can think of and decide which ones seem the most reasonable to start working on. You will want to check up on how this is all working in future family meetings. That way you can make adjustments or share gratitude for one less problem.
Finding the time to talk with your teen can be challenging. Surprisingly, the best times for them to really open up and talk with you are when you are involved with other things. Driving is a prime time for talking. Ask that the testing, hand held gaming, and cell phoning be put on hold when you are driving together and just talk about whatever comes to mind.
Create reasons for your teen to help you do the grocery shopping, or laundry folding, or any activity where you can work and talk at the same time. That is an excellent way to work on communication with them. Better yet, find some hobbies that the whole family can enjoy.
Working with these ideas should help you keep your communications flowing and strong between you and your teen-ager. You may be surprised by them starting to pursue more time to talk with you as well!