This blog comes hot off the heels of a conversation with my 16-year-old daughter. We were just reflecting on the relationships of several of her friends and their parents. She concluded that improved communication could smooth out many of the relationships’ bumps and hurdles.
I asked her what parents should know about talking to the teenagers in their life. So here is one teenager’s top advice for talking with teens:
1. Pick your moment
When you have something you want to discuss with your teenager, give them time to mentally and emotionally prepare. Information is always more readily absorbed when you have your teenager’s attention. Mental preparation for a conversation allows them time to regulate their feelings and emotions about the topic that needs to be discussed.
E.g. When you get home from school, can you please catch up with me about ____? Come and see me when you’re ready.
2. Assume the best
Seek first to understand, then be understood. Don’t always jump to conclusions about a situation. Before pronouncing judgement on your teenager, pause, breathe and see the situation from their perspective. Listen to their story. Ask non-judgemental open questions to help them keep talking. Everyone appreciates being listened to. We show love when we listen. There will be plenty of time to discuss the details of the situation, but first, secure the conversation by listening.
3. Choose your topic
None of us likes the feeling of being overwhelmed by information. Teenagers can quickly feel like they are ALWAYS in trouble, even if that is not the case. This feeling develops when we bring up multiple problems or discussion points in one conversation. Think about the ONE thing that you would like your teenager to know, remember, do or stop doing as the result of your conversation. That’s what you stick to.
4. Let them experience natural consequences
Teenagers learn through personal experience more than they do from conversations. Lectures, even sharing your own experiences with your teenager will only go so far. They need to experience the consequence of their decisions and choices. Don’t be so quick to bail them out of difficult situations (unless safety is an issue, of course). When some correction is needed, our action should be based on direct, natural consequences and clear conversations. All discipline should be considered, measured and come with a clear and concise message. I have it on good authority that a standard ‘punishment’ for all misdemeanours, say taking away a device, puts parents in the position of being vindictive and heartless. A more memorable outcome would be experiencing a consequence that fits directly with the situation, leaving the door open for genuine communication.
5. Have a daily date
You may be able to set a ‘date’ time with your teenager, a time where you agree to meet up, even for a few moments. In our house, this happens over an evening cup of tea. It started because we tended to congregate back in the kitchen late in the evening, giving us an opportunity for relaxed conversation without expectations. It may take some time to search out where and when is a good time to ‘meet’ your teenager. Keep looking, though, because there will be a time and place for some natural communication.
A great way to kick off a relaxed conversation is with the question, “What are you excited about at the moment?” You’ll be amazed at the variety of responses you get to that question daily and where your conversations will head. If that’s not the right question for your teenager, ask them what they would like to be asked each day. Remember, this is about a moment of relaxed, unstructured communication, so they are unlikely to want to be asked some of the questions that we often want to know the answers to.
Teenagers have a wonderful outlook on the world. We might not always agree with their theories and perspectives, but your relationship will be stronger simply by taking time to listen and communicate.