If you are the parent of an adolescent, it may feel at times like you are living in a foreign country trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. At times you might be able to get by, but overall you wonder how in the world you are going to get through the next few years. As a therapist, it is often my roll when working with families with adolescents to not only act as an interpreter but also to provide a guide book to help them navigate the unfamiliar territory of adolescence in the years to come. In this parenting tip of the month, I am going to share a snippet from that book which explores the dos and dont’s of communicating with your teen.
Validate. This might the most underrated yet most important communication tool you can have in your toolbox. Validating means communicating to another person that their thoughts, feelings, and actions make sense and are understandable given a particular situation. Validating acknowledges that the other person has a right to think/feel a certain way and that you accept their thoughts/feelings. This is critical when communicating with teens. Teens crave being heard and understood. If you can validate their experience, then they will be much more likely to open up to you. Remember, validating is not agreeing. You can validate without condoning their behavior or agreeing with their stance. So, always validate first and then explore other points of view and options.
Spend more time listening. It is often easy for us as parents to want to imbue our wisdom on our teens. However, in doing this, we often miss the opportunity to listen and understand things from their perspective. As a therapist working with adolescents for the last 8 years, I can speak to the fact that one of the biggest complaints teens have about their parents, or adults in general, is that they don’t listen. Adolescents often feel that their voices aren’t heard, appreciated, or valued by the adults in their life. I have found that when you increase the listening, they increase the talking. So, before you jump in with advice or opinions, LISTEN! Both you and your teen will be glad you did.
Show interest. Be genuine. Don’t judge. While we are talking about listening, don’t forget to be a good listener. Kids can tell when you care and are invested in what they have to say. Show interest by giving them your undivided attention and asking questions. When you are trying to juggle a bunch of responsibilities, it can be difficult to stop and really listen as your teen goes on and on about the drama at school. Their problems may seem frivolous and their reactions out of proportion. But, remember, if you show interest and listen when they are talking about the day to day events, they are going to be more likely to also share with you the more important things. Why? Because they feel valued and heard. And don’t forget to be careful about passing judgment. Kids feel judged every day by teachers and peers and what they need is a safe space where they can be their authentic selves.
Keep an open mind. Teens are learning everyday, about themselves and about the world around them. They often have strong opinions and think that they know everything about everything. While as parents we know that they have a lot to learn, it is important to remember that we do too. So, keep an open mind when talking with your teen and be open to their opinions, perspective, and knowledge. Sometimes you might find that you can learn a thing or two from them.
Remain Calm. Teens have hormones flooding through their bodies. As a result, they are often highly emotional, highly reactive, and highly irrational. As the parent, it is important that you remain cool, calm and collected, especially when your teen is acting in the opposite way. Not only is this important to help reduce potential escalation, but you are also modeling the appropriate way for them to manage their behavior and emotions when communicating with others.
Share your feelings. Sometimes parents feel that they need to hide their feelings and reactions from their kids. In reality, it is really important for your kids to learn about your feelings. Sharing your feelings helps your child learn empathy, learn healthy coping, and learn how to express themselves appropriately. When expressing your feelings, use “I statements.” For example, “I feel frustrated when you curse at me because it makes me feel that you don’t respect me as a person or your parent.” Teens need to learn that their parents have feelings too and that their actions have an affect.
Don’t dominate the conversation
Using these tips can help you better communicate with your adolescent. However, if you still feel like you are speaking two different languages, reach out to a therapist. Therapy can be a great tool to help you reconnect with your teen and learn new ways to communicate. Family Therapy Center of Bethesda is accepting referrals and specializes in helping families work towards happier, healthier relationships. Call today to schedule your appointment!