The one thing that sets the teen years apart from no other is incredibly rapid change! Parents wake up one day and their “little baby” is suddenly a teenager. The rules of the game have changed and parents don’t know how to “play” anymore. Suddenly there’s distance and now communicating with your teen seems impossible.
If you feel this way, you are not alone! Most parents struggle at some level when it comes to communicating with their teenager. With a few adjustments in your “game strategy”, you and your teen can begin moving forward with better communication in this new phase of life.
Get Clear on Your Family Values
Parents are constantly making decisions and correcting course to keep their family “on track”. For most situations in-the-moment decisions are fairly obvious. But when kids leap into this stage of massive change, there can be a new group of friends, interests and activities. Parents can have trouble finding their bearings.
Re-center yourself by connecting to your personal values. What’s important to you? What are you okay or not okay with? This is different for every family. Getting very clear on this will help you make better in-the-moment decisions based on values and not on emotion (like frustration), which will tend to build up communication barriers.
Understand There’s More Than Meets the Eye
In the teenage years, things are happening ‘under the current’ at an incredibly rapid rate. The brain is going through massive changes and growth- second only to the first years of life and social life has taken on a new form of its own.
Understand that your teen’s behavior may seem to come from out of nowhere to you, but to them something huge in their world may be happening. It could be a crush they’ve had has suddenly rejected them and now your teen just wants to retreat and hang out in their room. I could also be something bigger that involves safety or value issues. Have regular check-in’s with your teen to stay on top of what’s happening in their world and to keep communication open and regular.
Talk Less, Listen More
Parents just don’t understand — that was sort of the teenage motto when I was coming of age and it’s great at capturing the feelings many teens have. Practice the art of active listening, which temporarily setting aside any agenda to understand your teen. Yes, you do have your values (which are really important), but the goal is not to teach or to lecture, but to understand and open back up communication. After which, your teen will be more receptive to what you have to say or teach.
Use non-judgement and open offers for communication like: “Looks like English class is pretty overwhelming. Want to talk?” or “Any way I can help?” or maybe something like “Sound like there’s trouble between you and David. I’m a pretty good ear for listening.” Your teen may grunt and turn away, but you may also be surprised at how softening your approach and taking judgement out will drop defensiveness and open lines for communication. As your teen opens up, really try to listen to their words and feelings. Offer back ideas as you understand them. This helps to confirm you ‘get it’ and let’s your teen see that you really care.
Don’t think that game’s over just because your teen seems to be shutting you out. Just like before puberty hit, your teen still needs your support and your guidance in their life. Things look different and that’s natural. What can stay consistent is your love and support. It will make a huge difference in your growing relationship.