Talking to Teens
Good communication lies at the heart of all good relationships. For many of the parents that I speak to, fostering a relationship with their children that is based on open and honest communication is what they are aiming for. In this vision of a relationship, their child feels comfortable to come to them with any concerns or worries they may be experiencing. This goal remains the same no matter what age their child is. However, in many homes, once the pre teenage and teenage years hit, this goal seems to become more difficult to reach.
Once a child enters adolescence there is a push for independence which is often shown by their peers becoming more important than their parents. Add in to the mix puberty hormones, screens and more autonomy which often arrives at the same time and keeping those lines of communication open becomes more difficult than ever.
All of these barriers are normal and are faced by parents of teens the world over. Despite this however, there are things that can be done to ensure you remain able to communicate with your child!
The first thing is to take note of what the main barriers to communication are in your situation. Is it that they are not at home as much and so you have less time with them? Is it that when they are around they are deeply entrenched in their screen world? This world could consist of social media, gaming, homework, internet surfing etc.. Is it that whatever you ask them is answered with a grunt or a monosyllabic response?
Each of these issues has solutions which may help to ease the tension which has been created between you and your child. There are also things that can be done to soften the pull that your child may be feeling between the expectations at home and the social expectations from the world outside. Never will it be more important to your child to “ fit in” and be the same as everyone else. This feeling is often be shared by teenagers via phrases such as “ it’s not fair” or “ you are ruining my life!”
The conflict that your child is feeling inside is something that as parents, it is important to validate. By entering into a discussion with them about what they want and why it is so important to them, you open up the lines of communication and encourage your child to actually articulate the pressures they are feeling. Very often, if these conversations are approached calmly and at a time where your child is not busy with other things a compromise is able to be reached. In no way are you required to back down from what is important to you but showing your child empathy for what is important to them can help them to see that you are also a human being and that you want to understand and support them.
The teenagers I speak to often speak about their parents as being out of touch and not being able to relate to the world they live in. One of the places that this generation gap seems to be the largest is when it comes to social media and the impact of screens on teenagers’ life. Screens are quite simply the epicentre of their social life, relaxation, communication with the world and in many cases even their school work is all done via a screen. Most parents can’t understand that as it isn’t the way that they grew up.
This leads to a communication barrier on many levels. It creates a distance in culture references as well as for many teens, a resistance to having their screen time limited or interrupted for any reason at all. The dangers of too much screen time are well known and documented and therefore it can be helpful to have a conversation with your teenager about what the expectations are in your home when it comes to screens. It may be knowing that screens aren’t allowed at the dinner table or that there is a screen curfew. It may be having your child’s social media passwords so you can ensure their safety or it may be that there is a limit on the time you allow for screens but they can earn more through chores or helping out.
No matter what limits you choose, you should involve your teenager in the discussion. By reaching agreeing these boundaries through a conversation, you are forcing communication around an issue where most teens are the most secretive and yet show the biggest sense of entitlement. For some families a behaviour contract around screen expectations which is entered into at the end of these discussions works beautifully.
One of the developmental changes we see with teenagers is that they become egocentric and spend a lot of time focused on themselves and who they are, who they want to be and what they want from those around them and the world. This is totally normal but can be difficult to live with in a family unit!
One way to counter this is to make sure that family activities continue and that your teen is still expected to participate. This may be family dinners, time seeing grandparents or help babysitting younger siblings. We communicate through behaviour and actions as well as through words and your communication of these expectations tells your teen that they have a responsibility to their family as well as to their friends. This is another important message for them to remember.
Whilst the family relationship is extremely important, retaining your individual relationship with your teenager is also vital. Finding an activity you both enjoy and that you have a set time to do together gives you an opportunity to communicate about something unlikely to cause friction. The activity itself can help to cement the bond that you have and the time preparing for it – travelling there and back ,purchasing equipment etc is a wonderful opportunity to simply be in each other’s company and allow an ease of relationship to flow. The more relaxed you both feel, the easier communication is overall.
The biggest thing to remember about communicating with your teenager is that they are still your child and a huge part of your family unit. Their personality may be undergoing changes but they are the same person. As a parent, the best thing you can do is to remind them of those important relationships with you, their siblings and the wider family. Make clear to them that their voice matters and that way they will be encouraged to use it. Show them that you are consistent not only in your expectations of them but in your love for them as well. If the front door for communication isn’t working, find the back door – use actions of doing something kind for them and watching the smile that comes back or asking them to join you for a privilege they weren’t expecting. Embrace the person they are working to become and help them encompass the values and ideals you have instilled in them from the start.