PARENT EDUCATION: Bettering parent/teen communications

By Rev. Dr. Ron Barnes, LSW, Executive Director

The teen years are filled with

• peer pressure and acceptance
• academic pressures
• sibling rivalry
• success in sports
• boyfriends and girlfriends
• parental relationship

To a teen, these pressures are very real and very consuming. They need to talk about these concerns but they have to trust and be willing to listen to advice from adults. Over the years, I have counseled hundreds of teens and their parents. I feel privileged to be given such responsibility and influence, but it is not without its challenges. Working with teens and their parents can make for very energetic and emotional sessions. Parents want the best for their child, and teens want the best too; it’s just not necessarily along the same lines as the parent. During these sessions, I often witness The Lecture first hand.

The Lecture contains very well intended advice from a wise adult who has vast life experiences. The problem arises in the way the parent chooses to DELIVER their wisdom. Parents have a lot to offer their teens and they are obligated to share it. Even the most respectful teen has difficulty listening attentively to adults delivering The Lecture.

In the counseling process, the goal is to create an open dialogue between parent and teen and this can take a good deal of time and training. Over the years, I have incorporated some ideas that I have learned from our Director of Community Education, Joan Schenker. The W.A.I.T. rule has been very helpful in working with parents and teens. W.A.I.T. stands for “Why Am I Talking?” If parents want to know what is going on with their teen then listening is the more affective approach. It is the key to building ongoing communication and it is harder than it seems. Joan also encourages parents to use the LADDER format of communication. Good listeners incorporate the LADDER to help them combat the temptation to use The Lecture.

L: Look at your teen
A: Ask clarifying questions
D: Don’t interrupt
D: Don’t change the subject
E: Empathize with your teen
R: Respond only after your teen has had their say

The road to healthy parent/teen communication is not an easy one, but it is a road that must be traveled and not avoided. Teens will open up when they know they have an understanding ear. The W.A.I.T. and LADDER approaches are very helpful tools that have been effective in my counseling office and can work for you inside your own home.