August 17, 2015
You Can Communicate Effectively With Your Teen — Here’s How
Written by Rachel Eddins
Jenna is 14. Since she learned to read, she has been absorbed in books.
Every few weeks, her mother reads a different book aloud, so they can enjoy it together. They talk about the different characters and discuss what they think is going to happen.
They laugh often. Jenna’s mother always looks forward to this special time, and she thought Jenna did too, until lately.
Jenna has been asking to spend time alone in her room, or go out with her friends instead. Jenna’s mother feels like Jenna is barely home anymore.
She’s tried talking to Jenna, but she just clams up. How can she communicate with her child?
The teenage years are notoriously disruptive of the comfortable patterns you’ve cultivated at home.
The happy, chatty child you knew can become a stone wall, sharing little about her feelings or her day. You want to keep your child close, but your attempts to reach out seem to be pushing your child further into her own world.
The famous angst of a teenager is a fundamental step toward independence. Your child’s eyes are opening to the fact that she will have to one day leave home—who will she be? What will she do? What will be important to her, and what rulers will she use to measure success?
You want to care for and help your teenager, but her relationship to you is undergoing dramatic renovations. How can you stay connected?
The internal landscape of a teenager can be so tumultuous that she is likely more in need of some listening ears, rather than direct guidance. Your teenager is seeking to understand how she feels about herself and the world.
You can best communicate your love for your child by being her sounding board. Making a commitment to listen first, before judging what you hear, might just crack open the lines of communication a little bit.
Understand without over-empathizing
Life in middle school and high school can be very dramatic—the conflicts, grudges, and loyalties might seem silly to you, but really do matter to your teen.
Let your child know that you understand why an argument with a close friend might make it hard for her to concentrate on homework.
Afterward, brainstorm ways for her to better split her time between social problems and assignments.
Your teen will likely deflate the sense of importance she placed on the argument on her own; understanding rather than matching her concern helps you to act as the rock she needs.
Try not to get too emotional
The turmoil of the teenage years can be painful for children and parents. Maybe your teen’s words or behaviors hurt.
In many cases, it isn’t personal—your child is growing and changing, and hasn’t yet figured out how to cope with strange emotions.
Staying calm during disagreements at home avoids triggering a fight or flight response in your teenager, and lays out a smoother path toward a solution.
When you bring your teenager into a decision-making process, you’re respecting their increasing autonomy.
If your teenager feels like her feelings and experiences are treated with respect at home, she’ll likely be more open to communicating with you.
Your teenager is still learning, and probably isn’t going to make perfect decisions all the time; however, it’s important for her to feel like she’s behind the wheel in her own life.
So what can you expect?
No matter how great and nurturing your home life, your teenager will likely communicate less, and in a different way, than she did as a child.
If your relationship with your teenager has become a rockier road than you’d imagined, that doesn’t mean you’ve got parenting all wrong.
Being flexible and compassionate with yourself, and with your teen, will help you better navigate the inevitable shakeup to come.
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