Teens often tell me their parents don’t understand, don’t listen or don’t care about what they think. Parents wonder why their lectures fall on deaf ears. How do we bridge this communication gap? Parents often want to lecture instead of listen. Teens have heard it before and already know what their parents are going to say. As a result, the only purpose of a lecture is to make parents feel better.
Let’s looks at some alternative techniques that may sound like common sense but ones that are often not practiced:
- Identify your teen’s feelings by them by putting them into words. Don’t dismiss or ignore these feelings, but rather acknowledge them.
- When a reasonable explanation won’t do, indulge them with what can’t be delivered in reality. For example: “It’s too bad that you cannot be at two places at once”.
- Redirect unacceptable behavior while still acknowledging their feelings. Don’t simply condemn the behavior or just give in their demands.
The end result is they will feel understood and more likely comply with their parent’s expectations. They will also feel like they’re coming to conclusions on their own.
- Describe the problem so that they can become part of the solution and offer choices. Don’t give orders. Telling a teen “go do this” takes numerous attempts to even be heard.
- Describe what you are feeling instead of lashing out. “I’m disappointed in your choices” or “Your yelling hurts my ears” can go a lot farther than “Stop!!!”
- Give information on how things need to be done correctly. Avoid placing blame which will only cause your teen to get defensive.
- State your values/expectations, instead of pointing out what’s wrong. It will give them a sense of why its important to you and provide a window into your point of view.
- Do the unexpected by catching them off guard. For example, using humor can help diffuse a tense situation. By being unexpected, you are less likely to get tuned out.
- Put it in writing, by making a list or writing out instructions. This helps to set expectations without you necessarily being the bad guy. “The list says…” This concept can also works by setting a timer instead of reminding them of what time it is.
- Express appreciation in a specific way. o above and beyond saying “good job”. Describe what they did and describe what you feel. This is at least as important the teen years as when they were younger.
Parents need to shift from dictating punishment (“I am in control, you are grounded, no more discussion.”). Punishment delivered in this way leads to teens focusing on being mad that they’re in trouble, not “I’ll never do that again”, or even worse, figuring out how to get away with it next time.
So when they break the rules or do something to get into trouble:
- State your feelings.
- State your expectations.
- Show how to make amends.
- Offer a choice of what the consequences should be.
- Have them take action (vs. taking a punishment and stewing), which may allow them to face up to what they did and try to turn a wrong into a right.
Finally, share your points of view, brainstorm ideas and come up with a plan that you can both agree on and put ideas into action. Please note that some problems that go beyond problem solving may benefit from professional help.
Adolescence is a difficult period for teens and adults alike, as there are so many changes going in roles, expectations as well as physically/emotionally. It takes patience and practice to learn new ways of communicating, and its hard to shift from controlling to collaborating, but the end results and your family is definitely worth the efforts.
© Copyright 2011 by Melissa Wright. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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