Communication and Your 13 - 18 year old
Establishing a good rapportFor consistent communication between parents and their teenagers, the first and most essential factor is establishing a good rapport with teenagers as a parent-friend. Parents need to give their child a sense of understanding, support and empathy which will help children open up. Otherwise teenagers will choose to hold in their feelings, ideas, thoughts and beliefs and will attempt to work out problems and issues themselves. Without good rapport between parents and teenagers, parents cannot expect their teen to comply with their views, opinions and advice or even communicate openly.
Being a good listener
Most parents are full of advice, instructions and rules. Younger children require this guidance for safety. Teenagers however need less advice about what to do or not to do. Teenagers most often need reassurance that their decisions are good ones. From the viewpoint of a teenager, this simply means listening. Asking them open ended questions may help them get started. Nonetheless, some kids may not respond well even to an open ended question. They may answer in monosyllables or short sentences such as ‘good’ ‘okay’ ‘nothing’ and ‘I’m fine’. These kinds of responses often leave parents bewildered and discouraged and many will abandon their efforts to communicate altogether.
Giving time and spaceIt is especially important for parents to give time and space to their kids to open up on their own terms. For instance, when the parent says “Let's talk” and the teen does not open up but only replies in monosyllables, the parent should acknowlege that the teen is not ready for communication. Parents should attempt initiate communication at another time or location. Showing genuine interest and communicating with warmth and patience will enable teens to see that their parents respect their need for privacy and are giving them the time and space they need to communicate on their own terms.
Spending timeSpending time with teens is critical. At the same time, parents should ensure that they do what their teen desires. For instance, spending time with the teen by going fishing may be inappropriate when he/she dislikes the outdoors. Psychologist Ronald Kotesky says ‘It is important who decides what to do’. Essentially, it should be the teen who decides what to do or where to go. Joining an activity that the child likes will help them understand how much parents do to fulfill their desires even in smallest things.
Sharing understandingParents’ communication to teens should not be based on an intention to know their world, issues, problems and concerns. Parents should share with teens their routines, work, problems, issues and concerns of life (appropriate to age and maturity) and make them feel as an important person in the family. They should also share some important facets of life such as their childhood, adolescence, etc. This will help teens open up and allow the parents to be a part of their world. Otherwise, parents may be viewed as adults who don’t understand their problems or concepts. When parents feel that their teen is facing some kind of problem and is not willing to share, parents should let the teen know that they are willing to work with him/her and together they can solve the problem. Communicating their understanding is something parents need to follow to maintain effective communication with the teenager.
Asking for feedbackParents should encourage their teens to give feedback about any discussion they have (family, personal or general). They at the same time should ensure that kids provide the feedback respectfully. Allowing freedom of speech and thought process does not necessarily mean disrespect or accusations. Parents should draw the line in the whole communication process so that teens know and learn appropriate ways to communicate.
Respecting independence and privacy
Just because a teen is good friend of the parent(s) does not mean that he/she will share everything with the parent or stand by the parent all the time. Parents should respect the teen’s need to be independent and allow his/her privacy. This will help stabilize the relationship.
Emotional changesAdolescents attempting to behave like an adult may sometimes seem awkward. However, parents need to understand that adolescents go through various changes in moods such as extreme happiness or sadness, outbursts of tears, etc, due to hormonal changes. Children may not know how to cope with these emotions effectively. Parents should silently empathize with the teen’s mood swings and behave in a way that doesn’t turn them off.
Keeping a sense of humorHumor is an excellent way to strengthen communication with teens. Nonetheless, parents should ensure they do not make jokes about those things to which their teen may be sensitive. Communication coach Diane Wolf says, ‘Laugh at yourself and not at your teen’.
NegotiatingDifferences of opinion exist in all kinds of relationships and this is common among parents and teenagers. Parents may expect their teens to comply with their views, ideas and expectations. Parents need to understand that their teens are developing adults and not matured adults, at the same time they are not kids. And hence their level of comprehension, maturity and behaviors will not be like that of adults.When difference of opinions occurs, parents should talk it over with their teen. They should help him/her understand their concerns firmly but calmly. This will prevent heated arguments, at the same time help the teen to rethink on the limits and arrive at negotiable solutions.
A note for parents
Most parents do their best to understand their teenager and help him or her through this sometimes difficult developmental stage. Yet there is no clear cut recipe for successful communication. Each adolescent’s personality and character is different and unique. However, these few steps would serve as a basic groundwork for establishing effective communication and strengthening relationships.Written by: Irene JEdited by: Michael K. Davis, MD