Keeping Communication Lines Open with Teens

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“So, how was your day? Anything exciting happen?” asked the mother as she picked up her daughter from school.

Her teenage daughter grunted as she got into the car, “Just the usual. Nothing ever happens.”

Once the car started moving, the daughter put in her earbuds and started texting with her friends. The mother silently started the drive home.

Something happens to children when they become teenagers. They go from chatting with their parents about everything happening in their lives to becoming mostly silent. Yet, these same teens are constantly communicating with their friends through text, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Parents are frequently bothered by the lack of communication with their teens. One of the reasons it occurs is that teens are striving to become independent and less reliant on their parents. As such, they engage in behaviors that essentially shut parents out.

While this is a part of normal development, teenagers are also beginning to make important decisions in their lives about their friends, schooling, driving, dating, and substance use. As such, parents need to try and learn other ways to stay involved when direct questioning is no longer effective.

One way is for parents to listen to what teens are saying when they don’t feel like they are being interrogated. Teens will often open up in these situations. When teens are willing to talk, parents should validate their feelings and not rush to solve the problem. Teens frequently need to just hear that parents understand how difficult something might be for them.

Another way to encourage open communication with teens is to find ways to build their self-esteem. This can occur by parents showing teens that they trust them. A way to accomplish this is to request a favor. For example, asking a teen to make dinner for the family because the parents are working late shows trust from the parents that the teen can be depended upon. In addition, parents need to remember that teens still want to be praised when they do well. Even though they may not show it, teens still desire to be recognized for the good work that they do.

Parents should be aware that communication will quickly shut down when teens feeling they are being dictated to or yelled at. As a result, parents should explain why certain family rules are in place and to try and control their emotions when they are talking with their teen. Even though teens can frequently be rude and annoying, parents should not respond in kind.

Finally, parents need to try and spend some time with their teens. Doing things together that both parents and teens enjoy can serve as a good bonding experience where important conversations can occur naturally. In addition, sharing regular meals together can also afford regular opportunities to be around one another.

Getting teens to open up and communicate about their lives is a challenge. Parents who listen to what their teens are telling them and try to keep the lines of communication open will be able to have some influence on the decisions their teens make.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Tuesday on October 4, 2016

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