A reoccurring theme that surfaces in my conversations with parents is the disconnect they experience with their child at some point during adolescence. When a child becomes more interested in their peers than their family, it can leave Mom and Dad feeling hurt and confused. Some parents interpret this behavior as selfish, which can fuel arguments and breed resentment. When dealing with what feels like a bombardment of changes, many teens are feeling disconnected from their former self, as well. They feel lost in the whirlwind of adolescence, and their friends experiencing the same storm are often their “first string” companions and confidants. Teens often tell me “MY FRIENDS GET ME AND MY PARENTS DON’T!”
I’ve found that parents who respond to new, sometimes unsettling behaviors without attacking their teen (the imposter who suddenly appeared before them) fare with less casualties. Adolescents are already brewing with hormones and emotion. Engaging your child from a place of understanding and common ground will set the stage for a more productive, rational, and pleasant conversation.
Here are a few tips that may enhance your communication with your tween or teen:
When engaging in a conversation, it is most productive to have a specific point and stick to it. For example, if you are concerned your son’s new girlfriend is negatively impacting his grades, then talk with him about just that. You may find it hard to avoid addressing his habit of leaving his baseball uniform on the floor, and tendency to miss curfew but this will distract him and get in the way of helping him understand why you are truly worried about his schoolwork. No one likes to feel picked on and your child may feel you are bombarding him or her with too many of your frustrations. This may cause them to feel that it is impossible to please you or be able to reason you.
Do not have a serious conversation with your child when you are angry. A concerned, yet calm parent will be met with more positivity and optimism. If you approach a discussion with your child while angry, they will likely respond to your emotion and not to the issue at hand. Your anger may lead to an argument and this will push your teen farther away. Having said this, be firm and stand your ground. Articulating that you are not open to communicating and negotiating without their attention is important.
When addressing potentially harmful behaviors, explain why their actions can be hurtful to them or others. This will help your child understand that it is part of your job, because you are a loving parent, to keep them safe. It’s ok to let them know that you are not trying to make them miserable, and they will be, if they suffer the consequences of reckless choice.
Whenever possible, be compassionate and remind your child that you recall your teen years having some of the same ups and downs. Don’t be afraid to share a story and what you may have learned from it. Your child may not seem like they want to be your friend, but they want to know that you are ultimately on their side and you want them to be happy.
Try your best not to interrupt your child when they are sharing their feelings. Remember that it can be difficult to open up, especially when you are a teenager talking to your parents. Validate your child’s point of view so that they know you are genuinely listening. Your child wants and deserves to be heard and this will be a productive way for you to show your love and support.
Remember a storm often precedes a beautiful day. If your conversation gets a little rocky, expressing that you want to continue the discussion the following day, or after dinner etc. emphasizes the importance of communicating respectfully and positively. It’s empowering for your child to know that you want to hear what they have to say and communicate like adults. After all your child is hoping to be treated like one, right?