Many parents find it difficult to establish and maintain open communication with their child during the adolescent years. In many ways, this is perfectly normal and to be expected. Adolescence is a developmental stage that is often accompanied by an increase in tension and strain in the parent-child relationship. As a normal aspect of adolescent development, teens want to demonstrate independence from their parents and to make their own decisions. What makes this sometimes difficult is the teen often does not recognize the need for adult supervision or guidance. In these situations, frequent arguments may ensue, and family life may become difficult and conflict ridden for all. Parents and teenagers may withdraw from one another to avoid arguments, but this is typically a short-term solution that does not resolve the underlying problems. So what can parents do to improve communication during this developmental stage?
One of the first things parents can do to navigate this situation and have a positive communicative relationship with their teen is to empathize; try and understand where the teen is coming from. For example, starting a statement with ‘I understand that it is difficult to concentrate on the homework because.’ or ‘I know you need pass this class, maybe we can brainstorm how you can manage your homework load tonight” works because it shows that you are trying to validate a teens’ frustrations, while also trying to collaborate with them to help.
Another strategy is to ask “curious” questions and not loaded ones. This means asking participatory questions rather than asking questions that will likely put the teen on the defensive. For example, when a teen is not doing a chore, it is best not to yell ‘Why are you lazy?’ or ‘Why can’t you remember a simple task?’ These types of questions will put a teen on the defensive. Examples of questions you could ask instead are ‘Do you have any ideas that will help you remember your chores?’ or ‘How can I help make chores more manageable for you?’ If they don’t have any suggestions, then be sure to have some readily available in your mind and try to start a collaborative discussion. The point of this of this type of communication is to encourage a teen to think for themselves, giving them more control of their own behaviors and thoughts – which is what they seek at this stage of development.
Finally, do everything you can to take emotionality out of the equation. Emotion is your enemy when you’re trying to get through to your teen. You may not like how your teen is behaving—or even how he/she is thinking—but keep your emotions out of it, even if the behavior impacts you. Remember thought that this is not an easy thing to do; it’s tough, but it’s a skill you can learn just like any other. Here at the Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry, we help parents repeat this slogan to themselves before talking to their kids: “This is just like a business transaction; it’s nothing personal.” When you really think about it, there’s no reason to be mad at your child for being him/herself. Your teen may be making a poor choice, but the truth is, they might not yet have the skill set to make a better one. So your job is to help guide them to better choices so they can in turn develop a better skill set. When you realize what your job is as a parent, it will help you be less emotional. When you feel frustrated, remember, don’t take it personally. Tell yourself that this is simply a problem to solve, and part of “parenting business as usual.”
Keeping the lines of communication open leads to a number of positive effects. For example, parents are often perceived as stable sources of positive influence by teens when communication is open and productive and they feel supported in their growing independence. Communication in such families is characterized by mutual respect and the ability to openly exchange feelings and ideas. Parents who understand their teen’s need for a reasonable measure of independence and individuality encourage their child’s growth and achievements. This positive interaction strengthens the bonds of the parent-child relationship. When an adolescent receives parental approval and believes that the parent genuinely values his/her accomplishments, it promotes a positive self-concept and creates a willingness to share other information about one’s self.
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