Posted by: coachingparents | March 10, 2008

Talking With Your Teen

If “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus”, parents are often left wondering, “Exactly what planet is my teenager from?”
The teenage years are a minefield of hormones, emotions and insecurities that can leave kids anxious and wondering exactly where they fit in, both in high school and the world at large.

During these years, parents are often frustrated in their attempts to bridge the high hopes and expectations they have for their children with the perplexing and perceived irresponsible behavior their kids can exhibit. 
To understand teenagers, parents first have to understand and appreciate a teenager’s point of view. Their world is driven by an overwhelming desire for independence that compels teens to want to assert themselves as individuals. But in doing so, their rebellion and defiance put them at risk both for parental conflict and for personal safety.

There are a number of steps parents can take to foster communication and to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood easier:

  • Live in the Moment:   It’s easy to get wrapped up in a busy day’s activities of working, grocery shopping, ferrying kids to practice, then making dinner.  But oftentimes we are so consumed by the tasks at hand that we fail to recognize when our kids might actually be ready to talk.  Parent-teen communication is a lot like visiting a tide pool – there is usually only a brief window of opportunity for access.  Be observant and look for signals that your teen may be ready to open up.  If she asks about your day or he lingers in the kitchen while you’re cooking, set aside what you’re doing and be ready to fully engage in conversation.
  •  Really Listen:  What’s the opposite of ‘Talking?’  Most people will automatically reply that it’s ‘Listening’, but this is far from the truth for most parents.  In reality, they’re not actually ‘listening’, but instead are ‘Waiting to Talk.’   You can never fully understand or appreciate what your teen is trying to tell you if your focus is solely on your planned response.  For those seemingly rare instances when your teen is conversing with you, put aside the tendency to prepare rebuttals and instead focus on the key points your teen is making.
  • Avoid Lectures:  There are ways to make your point without resorting to “Because I said so” or becoming Broken Record Mom.  Instead of lecturing, try using questions to engage your teen.  “So what went through your mind when Sara asked you to go to the mall after school, when you knew you were grounded?”  “Weren’t you concerned you’d get caught?”  “Did you think the lie you used could make things worse?”  By asking questions, you give back some control of the conversation to your teen, which leaves her more receptive to discussing a topic and less intent on shutting you out.
  • Quit Yelling:   We’ve all seen it.  A sports coach who loses his cool so often that the players eventually just tune him out.  And where does that get him?  Not only have his players shut down, but his bad behavior set such a bad example that he was ejected from the game.  If there were a referee in your household, how often would you find yourself ‘ejected?’  Yelling is a no-win situation.  It only leads to the escalation of conflict, not the resolution of it.  If you find yourself losing your cool, take a breath and regroup.  Be upfront with your teen and say, “I’m really starting to lose my temper right now.  How about we take a break and set the timer for 30 minutes and come back and revisit this topic then when we’ve both had a chance to think things through.”

By keeping your cool, you show your teen firsthand that you really are in control, and not the ranting and raving mother that he’s justified in tuning out.

  • Admit Your Mistakes:  How often have you heard your teen say, “Well you’re not perfect, either!”  Where did she get the idea that you ever were? It can be frustrating for teens to see their parents appear competent and in control, and can leave teens wondering if they ever will be themselves.

By admitting your mistakes, you show them that indeed you are not perfect, but just a human being as susceptible to foibles and failures as they are. You also give them a much bigger gift — the lesson that what really counts is how you react and recover from your mistakes.
There are two special gifts we should give our children:
One is roots, the other is wings.

            By the time your child is a teen, the roots are well on their way to being established. But it is during the fleeting years of adolescence that you have the opportunity to ‘give them wings.’

            By practicing good communication techniques and engaging your teen in active conversation, you can help them spread their wings responsibly, while maintaining as much household harmony as possible during these unpredictable years.

# # #

Resource List

Talking with Your Teen – American Academy of Pediatrics
Improving Parent-Teen Communications – American Counseling Association
Your Teen – Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Caron Goode’s (EdD) insights are drawn from her fifteen years in private psychotherapy practice and thirty years of experience in the fields of education, personal empowerment, and health and wellness. She is the author of ten books and the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents, a training program for parents & professionals who wish to mentor other parents. A mom and step-mom, she and her husband live in Ft. Worth, Texas. Reach her at Read her latest book, The Art and Science of Coaching Parents: Building a Successful Home-Based Business.

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