For many parents, the teenage years are a time when the open, loving chats they used to share with their children are replaced with secrecy, eye-rolling and dramatic, “you’ll never understand me” sighs. Communication lines get crossed or even break, leaving parents and teens alike muttering “you never listen to me.” But with a few simple strategies and a little effort on your part, you can help prevent a communication breakdown with your teen or mend an existing one.
Set ground rules. Although they’ll never admit to it, children—teens included—crave rules from their parents. Reasonable boundaries—curfew, household duties, dating, etc— show kids you have expectations of them and you’re concerned about their well-being. Of course, most teens try to test the limits of these boundaries. When they do, it’s vital that the rewards and consequences of following or breaking the rules are clearly defined, fair and predictable.
Listen, really listen. Become an active listener and offer your complete attention for matters big and small. Resist the urge to ‘lecture’ or belittle seemingly ‘silly’ problems and try to keep an open mind. The fact that your teen is opening the door of communication is a critical first step. Don’t slam it shut with an insensitive or judgmental comment. Instead, stay calm and focus in on what he’s really telling you—he’s feeling insecure, stressed, excited, etc.—and respond with empathy and understanding.
Pick your battles. Ask yourself if your child’s nose ring or messy room is really as big an issue as drugs, alcohol or sex. If you overreact to smaller issues, your teen is much less likely to come to you when he confronts a real dilemma or problem. Hold firm on truly important standards (e.g., breaking curfew, drug use etc.) but be a bit more flexible with matters that, in the big scheme of things, aren’t life-ALTering.
Take time to praise. It’s easy to get so caught up in what your teen’s not doing right, that you forget to mention the good things. Tell her when you’re proud of her and remind your teen often that you love her (though she may squirm to hear it).
Host weekly family meetings. Take time out to regularly connect as a family. Family meetings are a great chance to set guidelines, discuss what’s working and what’s not and re-evaluate priorities. Family meetings must be democratic: make sure everyone gets equal speaking time and has a say in decisions.
Put yourself in their shoes. Times change, but many of the basic issues teens face today are not all that different from what you went through. Think back to defining moments in your teenage years—your first breakup, the pressure to fit in, dealing with ‘unfair’ teachers, etc.—and remind yourself how important those issues were at the time. Share these moments with your teen. Though she may not entirely believe it, relating stories from your own adolescence will help your teenager realize you understand what she’s going through because you were a teen once too.
Need more information on parenting? Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help with a child to elder care resource and referral service that is geared toward enhancing the quality of family life. Call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see if you are eligible for the child to elder care resource and referral service at 1 866.468.9461 or 1.800.387.4765.
© 2005 WarrenShepell