Talking to your teenager is one of life’s big challenges, requiring flexibility, creative thought and a willingness to enter into their world.
The aim is to give your teenager food for thought, rather than just dispensing advice, or reading them the riot act.
For communication to be meaningful, it involves genuine listening to what your teen is telling you. There’s a difference between listening to understand what they feel, and giving the appearance of listening when you’ve already made up your mind about what they should be doing.
It can be hard to sit with your teenager’s confusion, conflict and anger without feeling compelled to sort it out instantly and show your son or daughter what they ‘should’ be doing.
But Core Development is all about providing the time, space and means of exploring difficult feelings, states of mind and situations.
This enables people to find the answers to their own, unique problems. Which is exactly the kind of empowerment you hope to give your teenager.
Here are some useful guidelines to follow when trying to improve the parent-teenager relationship.
Genuine listening can be a hard thing to achieve. When someone tells us confronting things, we often we want to ‘fix’ it on the spot. Maybe we want to shut it out, as it reminds us of our own, painful past. It might offend our religious, cultural or personal sensibilities, in which case we feel we have reject the person’s opinion, if not the person themselves.
None of these responses work, however, especially with a teenager. The key lies in listening without forcing our opinions on others, and in leaving the door open for others to communicate their points of view without taking the position that we’re right and they’re wrong.
It’s also about knowing the right time to listen and the right time to talk. There are no rules about this, but it’s something we can get better at with practice and the right help.
Leading by example
Youngsters tend to follow the lead of their parents and role models. The best way to teach a child to listen is by listening to them. So start early. By the time your child reaches their teenage years, some of the most challenging issues might be avoided.
Teens are very shrewd. They usually know when you’re not telling the truth, or when you’re embroidering the truth or putting on a face. It’s important to be as real and honest as possible when talking to your teenager. Admit it if you’ve made a mistake – they will appreciate it. They don’t want to see you as perfect – that’s unrealistic and impossible to live up to. They need to see you as a caring, responsive person who understands how hard it can be to find your own identity – yet knows from their own experience that it’s possible.
Teenagers hate feeling smothered or crowded by their parents. They need to know that you are there for them, but crave their own space in which to think, dream and grow. Getting the right balance between respecting their space and also asserting your authority as a parent can be tricky.
Again there are no rights and wrongs here. But with practice and expert help, if necessary, you’ll get better at interpreting edgy situations and knowing when to back off and when to intervene. Working out when to enforce or redefine the boundaries is one of the hardest tasks for any parent of teenage children. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone!
You might be appalled, bewildered or frightened by some of your teenager’s opinions and behaviours but, at the end of the day, they are simply trying to find their feet. Facing a barrage of conflicting influences from school, peers and social media, some amount of confusion is inevitable.
Let them know you are always willing to listen, without forcing your opinions or solutions on them. Whether they show it or not, it will help them to know you’re there to support them even when you don’t agree with them.
Finding the balance
You want to be a friend to your teenager while still being their parent. Sharing useful insights and relevant experiences from your own childhood and adolescence is really helpful and usually very much appreciated by your teenager, however it’s important not to burden them with your own problems and concerns.
Let them develop their own special friendships with peers, and accept the dramas which will be generated as your teen learns to negotiate their own relationships.
Using ‘I’ statements
Pay attention to how you frame things when talking to your teenager. “I feel annoyed when you do that”, for instance, is not accusatory whereas “You annoy me!” is. Teenagers are ultra-sensitive to blaming, so try and be authentic in the way you use language.
You need to promote your own self-awareness if you want to help your teenager develop theirs. It’s important to know when feelings and triggers from your own past are influencing the way you react to things your teenager is doing. Communicate and explore the expectations you have about yourselves and each other.
Above all, it’s important not to blame yourself when the best laid plans and intentions go wrong. It’s impossible to control all the influences affecting your family, or to make perfect decisions – at just the right moment – every time!
Allow your teenager to disagree with you, to form their own opinions and to explore a range of viewpoints.
Asking for help
And don’t be afraid to ask for help. When your needs are not being met you feel stressed, you are concerned about issues in your own life, and this makes it more difficult for you to understand, support and enjoy your children.
Core Development offers years of expertise in the fields of communication and emotional learning. It evolved from my professional training in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and 40 years’ experience of working with adults and children in a variety of settings.
Core Development offers the following to Parents, Educators, and Practitioners who work with children:
- Individual counselling and psychotherapy sessions (also available by phone)
- Couples counselling
- Counselling and Psychotherapy for Parents and Teenagers(together or separately)
- In-house workshops tailored for your team or organisation
- Public workshops and Talks
I can help you deal effectively with the stresses in your life and get your needs met, so you are less stressed, you feel better, and you are in a much better condition to help your children.
If you wish to explore this further, call me on 02 9413 9794 or 0412 178 234 for an informal and confidential chat.
Donald Marmara, Core Development