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Communicating with your adolescent

Communicating with your adolescent

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, as the author John Gray would have us believe, then adolescents must be from another galaxy altogether – or so it often seems to parents who live with them.

Many parents I talk with are often confused as to why communication (and I use that term rather loosely) with their adolescent has become so difficult, strained, or filled with sarcasm and often antagonism.

What then can parents do when their help and attempt at communication is rejected and seen as interference, advice is misconstrued as bossing, and opinions offered are processed as criticism? The following guidelines can be extremely helpful in successfully establishing effective lines of communication with the adolescents in your life.

Open communication

Text messaging, tweeting, and the myriad social networking sites have dramatically opened up many more communication vistas for today’s youth. They are literally bombarded with communiqués – but less so face-to-face. Be aware that your concept of communication is different from this generation’s. Don’t get locked in a power struggle with your teenager feeling that your authority is slipping away. The bottom line is this: Treat them more like adults and involve them in family decisions as much as you can to help keep the lines of communication open.

Critical speaking

The surest communication-killer between parents and their adolescents is criticism. When you criticize her friends you are actually de facto criticizing her.  No one enjoys being confronted with their own deficiencies or mistakes – least of all adolescents.  Listen with an open mind, and respect their opinions no matter how ludicrous they may seem. Adolescents also don’t want to hear how ridiculous you believe their behavior or that of their peers to be.

Pick your battles  

This is often the mindset that many parents embrace when they are interacting with their adolescent. This style of parenting, by definition, means that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose.

But raising teens is not a battle. When you are displeased with your child’s behavior, stop and ask yourself: Is this “battle” necessary? There are literarily hundreds of things our adolescents can do or say that can “press our buttons.” Just stopping for a few seconds and rethinking your direction can foster not only effective and friendly communication when you do engage, but it can also bring more peace and harmony to your home.

Lend an ear

The rallying cry of most adolescents is “My parents don’t listen to/understand me.” Adolescents need to feel that their opinions and input are important, valued, and listened to. They want parents that talk with them not at them. Remember, it’s not about you and your own adolescent struggles, it’s about theirs now. 

Do kids today have it easier than we did? In most cases the answer is yes, but that still doesn’t negate the struggles they are experiencing. One of the goals for parents during adolescence is to help them develop autonomy and control over their behavior. When adolescents and their parents clearly communicate their thoughts feelings and ideas, and reach mutually agreed upon decisions, there are no losers.  Everyone wins.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and chairperson of the Division of Social Sciences at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.

Other articles by Paul Schwartz