How to talk to your teen

How's your communication with your teenage children? Often  parents feel they just can't communicate with their teenage son or daughter. It seems that whatever they say, it's always the wrong thing .

Life can become very stressful when faced with battles over seemingly everything. So who's to blame? Is it the kids or the parents who are creating the problem?

Actually, it's not helpful to see this as a problem. Challenges over communication are part of life, this isn't just a teenage issue. Having said that, teens do bring added challenges.  Have you ever seen the postcard 'Quick, ask a teenager while they still know it all?!' 

Teens can often be regarded as difficult, moody and unresponsive. They can also be quite hurtful (unwittingly) to others who don't fit in with what's trendy.

If this is a challenge for you, what can you do about it?  Below (in no particular order) are some ideas you to try which may help you:

1) How well do you listen?
Often we get so wrapped up in our own 'stuff' that we think we're listening when we're actually planning our day ahead, or thinking about our to do list. Practice actively listening to your teen; the car can be a great place for this because you've got them captive. Rate yourself as a listener.  Remember, you're a role model.

2) Reflect back what they're saying to you.
Teenager: "I hate school, Mr B is so unfair!"  Your natural response may be something along the lines of  'Don't talk about your teacher like that' or 'I'm sure that's not true.'  Result? You've put their back up and they've gone into defensive mode. 
Try another way; your response could be: "You think Mr B has been unfair?" or "You sound fed up, do you want to talk about it?"  Trial and error works best with this, they may respond with telling you about the situation (communication, hooray!) or they may just say "Well he has!".  Either way, what you haven't done is tell them how very wrong they are to think the way they do. 

3) Describe what you don't like rather than accusing
'When the house is a mess, I start to feel stressed out' will get a  marginally better response than saying 'You've made the house a mess, clean it up!'  An even better way would be to say what you want 'I need to get the house tidy for the weekend, can you help by moving your stuff please'

4) Smile! 
We're great at smiling when our children are little, but how often do we smile at our teenagers?

5) Beginnings and endings
No matter what happens, make a decision to start and end each day with a positive. A simple, 'I love you' before bed can mean the world to a teen, but don't expect them to show it.

6)  What are you looking for?
How will you know if your communication with your teenager is good? Note down what would be different compared to now so that you'll be able to tell when you've got there.

7) Be mindful that good communication is an ongoing goal
You'll need to keep focusing on improving communication as often as possible or you'll soon revert back to old habits. Do you need to write yourself a note to remind yourself?

8) Don't expect their communication to improve
You've set this as a goal for you to work on, it doesn't automatically follow that you're child will suddenly want to communicate well with you. Stick with it and you'll get better responses, but it may take a while, particularly if your child is used to feeling they have to defend themselves.  Teens are greatly influenced by their peers, but over a lifetime our parents are far more influential in our lives. Remember this when you're wondering why you bother!

9) Be clear about the benefits of working on this
What will you gain if you communicate well with your teen? What's in it for you?  How will life be better if you make these changes? If you know why you're doing this, you're more likely to stick at it.

10) Remember that we're all fallible human beings
We all make mistakes all the time, it's part of life. There will be times when you say and do things that create conflict with your teen; that's ok. We're not trying to be perfect here, we're just aiming to improve communication. Saying 'sorry' can be really powerful, as can never giving up. Every time you have a positive interaction with your teen, that's fantastic, you're on the journey!

The 'How to Talk so Kids Can Listen, and Listen so Kids can Talk' series by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish are highly recommended for further reading.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking, you'll have many more of your own. The teenage years are among the toughest in our lives; knowing that they're accepted and loved by their parents can make a massive difference.  Good communication helps to show this.

Happy communicating!

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