With a new relationship dynamic forming, parents often fall into the trap of ‘demanding’ information or preferred behaviours from their teenager, instead of listening more to where they are at and what they want/need, as they try to find out who they are and crystallize the person they want to be. What can parents do to practice active listening and improve the relationship between themselves and their teenagers? Read on to find out how to stay connected and family strong.
What is Effective Communication?
You and your teenager are communicating effectively when you both feel able to talk freely about your feelings, and you feel heard and understood. If you are able to share the ‘little’ things between you in an easy manner, the likelihood that you will share increased comfortability in communicating openly during times where the tougher topics emerge is greater. This will enable you both to approach difficult conversations in a direct and honest manner. Most importantly, if both sides feel they are respected, then effective communication occurs with kindness and without judgement, knowing that whatever is being said comes from a place of caring.
Effective communication is a conscious, proactive action, and these six key strategies will help you stay on track to being there for your teenager, without crowding their space or their privacy.
#1 Keep the Communication Lines Open
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’
Teenage years can be tricky for many families. Young people may develop ideas and values that are different from those of their parents, growing into their own beliefs, formed by layering their own experiences, interests, and passions over the family foundation layer. This is part of the normal process of moving towards independence, however, negative communication is a common cause of conflict between a parent and teenagers during this transition. Slammed doors, shouting, arguments, tears, flat refusals – sound familiar?
The important thing to remember through it all is that teens really do want their parents involved with them but on their terms. Parents need to appreciate the fact that teenagers have a different view of the world. Those views may run contrary to a parents’ belief structure or even values, however, it is important that the teenagers’ views and opinions are respected. Take time during your conversations and practice active listening – often we are surprised by how much people will confide in you when they feel that they are really being heard and listened to. Giving out clear and consistent messages, whatever is happening, will also help to ground you both.
Key messages from you:
· I love you (unconditionally) and I will always love you.
· Your voice is part of the family’s voice. You and your opinions are considered important, and we are all of equal importance.
#2 Turn off the Parent Alarm
It’s instinctive for parents to want to protect their teenagers, resolve their problems, and guide them into safe waters, keeping the sharks at bay. The flip side of this is that sometimes we ‘over-anticipate’ issues. An announcement that they are going to a party at the weekend is often met with ‘Where is it?’, ‘Whose party is it?’, ‘How are you getting home?’ and so on.
If they come home with a bad grade in their last exam or assessment, we often want to know what happened, what other people got, or we may even claim indignantly that this is why they should have revised instead of going out with friends the week before. When your teenager shares that they have met someone they like, we ask ‘How old are they?’, ‘Which school do they go to?’ ‘Where are they from?’
Many of these questions are based on our own expectations of our teenagers, and often subconsciously rooted in judgement, coming from our own bias about status and culture. It is important that we acknowledge this, and actively pause to first listen to our teenager’s take on the situation, and try and see what they are sharing through their eyes before responding.
Turn off the parent alarm and listen without judgement and reaction. As parents, we need to understand that what is most important is that we listen, and then say what is helpful, proactive, and supportive.
Key message from you:
· I am learning about you as you grow up. I appreciate and celebrate all the good things about you, and the amazing potential you have.