How to Talk to Your Teen
The art to keeping connected to teens.
Just when you think you’ve got parenting covered, your child becomes a teen. Now it’s a whole new world to deal with. Gone are the sweet hugs and goodnights, the little hand grasping yours, and the giggles at your jokes while driving carpool. In their place enters moodiness, sulking, emotional conversations and testing limits.
How can we best keep connected to our teens while they navigate these challenging years?
A parent asked me how to deal with her 15-year-old daughter who wanted to go on a summer trip with friends but it just did not ‘feel right’. Every day became the same complaining and nagging discussion. “Why can’t I? Everyone else is going. Why does everyone else get to do fun stuff but me?” The teen retreated to her room and gave one word answers when spoken to.
What’s a parent to do?
If you have a child in your life who is testing your patience and belief in yourself, now is the time to take back your relationship. There is no reason for adults to be invisible in their children’s lives. There is an art to keeping connected to teens.
The key to connection is good communication.
The key to connection is good communication. When God created the world, there was emptiness and darkness until God said “Let there be light”. The words of God were required before every creation, teaching us the power of our words. Words can create. We can use our words to create this bond with our children, especially teens. If we know how to focus on good conversational skills we can dispel the emptiness and darkness. We, too, can create light in our homes.
When faced with a child like this 15 year old who keeps nagging about the trip believing that she will wear her parents down, we should first ask ourselves if she is correct. Children who smell weakness, observing that parents are not firm in their values or decisions, who hesitate while sharing their rules or limits, will keep at it until a parent gives in. If this is your pattern you now know why your teen does not stop asking for the same thing over and over. She knows that she is a battering ram who will soon break through the wall. Enough sullenness, push-back, and badgering will get her to attain her desires. The faster this pattern stops the stronger parent you will be.
Recognize, too, that the more time we have spent talking and listening to our children when they are young, the better chance we have communicating with them as they grow. It is hard to start a relationship when kids and parents live parallel silent lives. If you can, begin today. Talk at dinner time; share a funny story or interesting incident that happened throughout your day. Look at your child when you speak. Maintain eye contact with your children not your screen. Offer reassuring words instead of jumping in with negative judgement. Reflect your child’s feelings to show that you get him. These are all simple things we can do to help ourselves grow closer to our children while we speak.
How can we tackle the times we want to say ‘no’ without losing ourselves and our kids to negative emotions?
The key is not in always saying ‘yes’ but how we say ‘no’.
Teens who feel as if we constantly shut them down move away from expressing themselves. They stop confiding, sharing or asking. They know that they will not be heard anyway, so what’s the point. Feeling misunderstood, they seek out others whom they know will listen to their voice. The main ingredient for parents to think about is: how can I give my child a sense that I am listening even if I do not acquiesce to his request?
1. Tell your child that you would like to hear what he has to say in a private, quiet time. Preferably both parents should be available for the conversation. Parents need to be on the same page. Remind your child that you can only hear him when he speaks with respectful words and tone.
2. Don’t mock or shame your child for his ideas. You may not agree but that is not a reason to put him down.
3. Keep the tone even and calm. Control your temper. Remember that you are the parent and you are the adult. Recognize the feeling when you begin to lose your cool so that you can gain self-control. This brings your child to respect you.
4. Take notice of your child’s thoughts and emotions. Ask relevant questions to show that you are taking him seriously.
5. Be solution oriented. Instead of just rehashing the problem, tell your teen that you would like to find viable alternatives. For example, maybe this trip won’t work but you are open to planning another and hearing suggestions.
6. Do not debate, defend yourself or get into an argument. Once the tone turns disrespectful simply say, “When you are ready to speak respectfully and in a considerate tone, I am happy to continue this conversation.”
7. Don’t belittle your child’s friends or their families. The point is not to put others down. We want to transmit our values and priorities. It’s not about the other families. It’s about creating a spiritual and moral compass for ours.
8. It is okay to say we will think about this and get back to you. Hit the pause button if you must gather your thoughts. It is also perfectly fine to say, “I know you really want to do this but we are just not comfortable. It’s not about not trusting you. It’s about not trusting the situation.”
Listening to our teens maintains the parent-child connection as they move on to discover this new phase of life. It is exciting and fearful at the same time. Our children need to know that they are loved, valued and cherished. They also require boundaries and limits because they are not yet ready to tackle the world on their own.
Offer timeless wisdom and values that you have learned. Offer your heart, your voice and your listening ear.