Maintaining an open line of communication with teenagers as they grow into adulthood is a necessary requirement for successful parenting. In fact, communicating effectively with your teenager is your number one job. As we all know, adolescences is the most confusing time of childhood, and teens need parents' help in finding their way as safe and trouble free as possible. So maintaining communication really is the key. However, this is not such an easy task even for the most skilled in parenting.
So, here are some suggestions to follow that are helpful in building communication:
Suggestions for Communicating with Teenagers
1. Take the time to listen
When your teens want to talk make sure you have the time to stop what you're doing and give them your full attention. They may not open up often but when they are ready they need to know they're important enough for you to take the time and truly listen. If you put them off, you may not get another chance for another few months and maybe never.
2. Don't interrupt
Don't interrupt when your teen is talking. This is difficult for most parents. We want to jump right in there and give advice or fix it immediately. Or perhaps we think the problem is trivial in our eyes and we want to brush it off as nothing. Don't interrupt, let them talk while you listen.
3. Stop what your doing
Look at your teen when he/she is talking. This means, don't wash dishes, continue watching your TV show, or focus on something else and half pay attention. Stop what your doing and look at your teenager while they're talking. Glance into their eyes as they talk but don't stare into their eyes constantly.
4. Focus on your teenager
Just looking at your teen however isn't enough. Keep your focus on what your teen is saying; don't let you mind wander to other things you consider to be more important. Stay focused on their words even if it sounds unimportant to you or you have a million things to get done. Your teen needs and deserves your full attention.
5. Remain calm
If your teen begins to shout, keep your cool and remain calm. Whatever you do, don't shout back. Escalating your voice will only increase their level of anger. Learn to listen to the words behind the anger and respect their point of view and they will most likely calm down also.
6. Respect their point of view
You don't have to agree with them but you must give them respect for their opinions and perspectives on things. That also means you should never betray their confidence in you for the things they have told you and never ever use it at a later time to make fun of them. These are sure fire way to break down the lines of communication with your teenager.
7. Encourage independence
Try not to pry into every little detail of your teen life. Let them tell you what they're ready to tell and if you truly listen without judgment, without blowing up and without trivializing their problems, they will begin to come to you more often. However, they will need more and more space to become independent as they reach adulthood.
8. Show empathy and understanding
Try to put yourself in your teen shoes and look at things from where they're coming from. This can give you a much better perspective on what is happening in their life. At the same time don't assume that you know what they're thinking or feeling.
9. Let teens win their own battles
Help you teen but don't fight their battles for them. Be open to your teens ideas and solutions to problems. Listen with an open mind about what they have to say and to their ideas on solving their own problems. Don't constantly point out your teens past mistakes or errors of judgment.
10. Respect your adolescent's complaints
Don't play the I can top your complaint game "You think things are bad for you ..."
11. Trust your teenager's decisions
Find a way to trust your teen to make their own decisions at the level appropriate for their age. Even though you're the parent, you may not always know what is best for them. You need to find a way to gradually let go. They may make mistakes but that's what growing up is all about. Learning from your own mistakes is necessary to becoming a fully functioning and capable adult. That doesn't just magically begin once we reach adulthood if not encouraged and nurtured in childhood.
Some Final Thoughts
Below are a few important ideas to keep in mind that can help you accomplish this all important parenting task of open communication with your teenager to the best of your ability.
1. Keep track of your teenager
It’s vitally important to not lose track of the direction in which your child is moving no matter how exhausting it may be for you to keep up with them. You don't want to be overbearing especially to the point of pushing them further away from you, but at the same time you want to make sure you are keeping good tabs on their social life, academics, extra curricular activities, computer habits and their behavioral patterns. It definitely is a fine line but one worth working towards.
2. Do whatever it takes to fix the problems
If your adolescent appears to be having problems, don’t just assume that they will go away on their own. Pay attention, listen and do whatever it takes to improve the situation. This is one important reason you must at all times know how to maintain a line of open communication well enough so that your child will realize that he/she can always come to mom or dad whenever problems come up.
3. Tough out the difficult times
Your teen needs you to stay strong and tough it out. They really are depending on you even though they would never admit it. If there is a major problem and the issue is giving both you and your child a rough time, your duty as a parent is to stick it out, get outside help if necessary and be there for them no matter what, regardless of the pain you may be going through while helping out your adolescent with behavior problems.
4. Seek outside help as needed to build or re-establish lost communication
Seek out help from articles, books and even professionals if need be in order to accomplish this most difficult of tasks. This step is even more important if the line of communication between you and your teenager does happen to break down or even completely fall apart to the point where you have a troubled teen. This is your responsibility but there is no need to tough it out alone.
Marsha Beslic M.S.