Small children talk to their parents all the time.
Every little event needs to be communicated and mom and dad’s response is essential, both in the moment and for the child’s ability to understand the world and themselves.
But when kids reach their teenage years, communication can become a lot more difficult. Communicating with teens often consists of trying to get them to talk – or even to listen — to their parents.
Teenagers need to go through the difficult process of developing their own individual selves. And part of that is to separate from the symbiotic relationship that younger children have with their parents. This includes being critical and needing ‘time off’ to sort themselves out. It also includes phases of intense needs and confusing new emotions.
Communicating with teens is a tricky dance between closeness and separateness, respect and acceptance.
If you are frustrated about communication with your teenaged children, here are 5 ways to make it a little bit easier.
1. Know and regulate your emotions and expectations
The first step in communication is to know yourself.
What do you want from this conversation?
What do you want from your teenage child?
Teens can feel confused about themselves and their own needs and wants. They can’t communicate them because they don’t know them.
As the adult, it is your job to know yourself.
First, because you can then communicate clearly and without adding even more confusion. And second, because you can then model clear and open communication for your teen. They might not acknowledge it, but they will probably copy it, later on.
As the adult, you also need to be able to regulate your own emotions.
How do you deal with frustration? How do you deal with disappointment?
What do you do when you don’t get what you want?
Don’t burden your teen with your own unmet needs and unreasonable expectations.
2. Be curious, not judgmental
Teens often do or say things that their parents don’t approve of.
This, of course, happened to their parents when they were teens.
But these teens are still your children.
Deep down, they are still looking for your approval and can be hurt a lot if you withhold that approval or have an overly critical response.
The secret to communicating with teens is to be and stay curious.
Ask your teen what is behind their actions and opinions. Don’t assume you know already.
Try to understand where they are coming from and communicate your interest back to them.
Allow them the dignity of acknowledgment, even if you disagree.
3. Don’t lecture – listen!
Listening is the most important communication skill anyway. And with your teens, it’s absolutely vital.
Even if your teen isn’t talking to you quite in the way you would like, or in the way they used to when they were small, they are probably talking casually all day. Listen to what they say. Listen to what they say to you, even if it’s only ‘small talk’.
If you are engaging in a more serious conversation, listen to everything they say, even if it seems off-topic or annoying. Everything your teen says is an attempt at communication.
And when you answer, be direct, open, and respectful.
Above all, don’t lecture! Stay connected and stay yourself.
4. Swap the positions – ask your teen for advice and help
A very smart way of communicating with your teen is to switch positions occasionally and ask them for help and advice on something in which they have expertise (like technology, sports, or fashion), but not about what to do in your romantic relationships… That’s what your friends are for.
They are growing up and acquiring skills and expertise that doesn’t come from you. They are beginning to get a bit tired of constantly being on the receiving end.
Helping you and passing on their own knowledge can be exciting and help pave the way to an adult relationship between you and your child.
And it will make it easier for them to take your advice, next time!
5. Non-verbal communication
A lot of communicating with teens, especially with boys, is non-verbal.
Take note of their body language and facial expressions. Don’t press them to verbalize if it’s not absolutely essential.
Instead, engage them in activities that they enjoy, like sports and non-verbal hobbies.
Communicating with teens works best when it is based on mutual respect.
Respect your teens and give them their space. Encourage them to respect you in turn and show them how by understanding your own needs and regulating your own emotions.
Don’t forget that you are the adult that they model their own behavior on, whether you realize it or not.