By Stacey Martin, LSW
Fact: one of the hardest parenting tasks is talking with teens. They say the “terrible two’s” are hardest, but you’re wondering who forgot to tell you about the “terrible teens” that come after. It’s almost as if once your child hits thir-TEEN, they’ve mentally moved out and don’t want to talk to you about anything going on in their life. Fear not, there are tips and tricks to help you communicate with your teen in a way that makes them feel independent while letting you still be the parent.
One commonality among parents is wanting to know everything that is happening in their teen’s life.
- What are they doing?
- Who are they hanging out with?
- Are they making good decisions?
- How can I trust them if they don’t talk to me?
Diving too deep too fast, because of the strong desire to have deep conversations, can mean forgetting to have light and fluffy talks about the day-to-day things. Instead, parents probe. Talking with teens is like building a new friendship. Joking about the pizza delivery guy’s curly mustache and taking interest in the things your teen likes to do for fun are the first steps to building open communication.
Think about it – when you built your first friendship, you didn’t tell them your secrets from the get-go. It was built up over time by hanging out, talking about casual things and learning you could trust them. Your teens are the same way. No, it’s not necessarily the conversation you were looking for, but you’re investing in your teen. You’re showing them you’re an ally and not a detective. Take interest in what they’re interested in. Share their emotions. Verbalize all the good things about them. Build a friendship first. Check out the Light the Fight podcast as a resource for building better relationships, parental guidance and more with your teens.
What Are Good Teen Communication Strategies?
Listen first and parent second. One of the things we’re really good at is correcting and redirecting our kids. It’s in our nature to help them learn and grow. This isn’t a bad thing, but something we miss is the idea of listening to what they have to say first before we deliver the consequence of their actions. This is a common complaint among teens.
“My parents don’t listen to me. They lecture me,” or “They don’t even try to understand.” This creates a closed line of communication with your teen. When we open our ears first, this is when we can finally hear their emotions, thoughts, ideas and schemas.
Another key to talking with teens is modeling what you want to see from your teen. If you want them to talk to you about their feelings, talk to them about yours. This is a “give and take” idea. How do you talk to your children about the hard things? Do you let them into your life? What we give is what we get. So, it’s important to model appropriate behaviors of communication in every facet of our lives.
Believe it or not, our teens are learning from us. We set the example for good, healthy communication, so when we’re open and available so are our teens. The Be Strong Families Organization is a great resource for more guidance on how to be a stronger parent and develop a stronger connection to their children.
Why Is My Teenager So Quiet?
First, know this is developmentally normal. I know that doesn’t help, but it’s true. When you go from “besties” to the silent treatment, it can be very difficult for a parent to comprehend. It can be heartbreaking for parents to understand their teens reach a point where they talk more to their friends than them. The hormones kick in, and they gravitate toward like-minded people. In this case, it’s their social community. Developmentally, this is very on track, so what do you do?
- Make your interactions fun and avoid putting your feelings on them.
- Don’t probe. Engage in light conversation.
- Value their feelings, respect their opinions and ask for it in return.
- Try to avoid lectures at all costs. This causes more silence.
- Set reasonable limits and provide them space to grow outside of you.
How Do You Help an Angry Teenager?
For teens, sometimes being angry is easier than being sad. Apart from sadness, anger makes us feel like we are in control. First things first, try to see the behavior through their eyes. Using empathy is such a powerful tool when it comes to our angry teens.
Second, try to identify repetitive stressors in your teen’s life. This could be school, work, struggles in friendships, struggles with family relationships, low self-esteem or lack of self-security. Identifying common patterns can help you identify the source of the sadness, which typically disguises itself as anger. In this scenario, putting off correction and discipline can be helpful and validating your angry teen’s feelings can be more beneficial. This involves getting on their level and seeing things from their perspective. Discipline can be a catalyst to the fire of anger within teens, but validation can be water.
Ultimately, our teens want us to sit next to them in their feelings while identifying that their feelings are valid. Instead, when talking with teens, it’s in our nature to correct and discipline the behavior rather than dig deeper to uncover what’s really going on.
It’s most important to remember this stage you are in with your teen is completely normal. You are not a bad parent, and you can do this! Opening a line of communication with your teen is the easiest way for you to begin seeing a change in the relationship you have with your child.
Anchorpoint’s parent counseling services can help you or someone you know who is struggling supporting their child or teen. Our family counselors teach parenting skills and child communication strategies. Call at (412)-366-1300 or use our Digital Intake Form to schedule an appointment today. Hope is only a phone call away.