Teens     Health Guide    

Communicating with your adolescent



If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, as the author John Gray states, then adolescents must be from another galaxy altogether, or so it often seems to parents who live with them. Some parents I talk with are often confused as to why communication with their adolescent – and I use the term ‘communication’ loosely – has become so difficult, strained and filled with antagonism.

Some of them are confused by their adolescent’s withdrawal from the family, their almost constant combative communication, if at all, and their seemingly abrupt and strange changes in behavior that accompanies the transition from childhood.

Many parents may make the mistake of beginning to internalize these difficulties and question their own parenting skills, asking, “What did I do wrong?”Nothing.

To all those parents out there let me offer a word of reassurance to help assuage you from devaluing your parenting skills that served you well all these years. It is not your parenting skills that have created this estrangement and breakdown in dialogue. Please don’t look inward; you have probably done nothing wrong. Actually, quite the reverse is true.

In most instances the adolescent’s vie for independence has little to do with his feelings for his parents. An adolescent’s attempt to move away from the family and become an independent autonomous person is as normal and as developmentally appropriate as when he stood and then toddled his first steps.

Just think back 10 or 12 years ago when that first retro rocket of independence blasted off and your child continually demanded “me do, me do” to every task set before her, from eating her oatmeal and usually wearing it, to attempting to tie her shoes or dress herself  as you waited endlessly for success to finally materialize.

The second booster rocket of independence reemerges again in adolescence. This time, however, the stakes are higher and the art of parenting is much more demanding.

What, then, can parents do when their help is rejected and seen as interference? When parental concern is dismissed as babying, when advice is misconstrued as bossing, and when opinions offered are processed as criticism?

It seems that we parents are caught in a perpetual cycle with our adolescents. Is it possible to communicate effectively and even pleasantly with our adolescent?

Although all adolescents, their family structure and dynamics are highly unique, there are areas of commonality that arise within most families living with adolescents.

I’ll cover the major guideline this month, followed next month by more suggestions.

Open lines of communication

Sometimes I think it might be easier to open up friendly lines of communication between the Israelis and the Palestinians than between some adolescents and their parents.

The first thing to keep in mind for today’s adolescent is that the process of communication itself  has changed dramatically. Contemporary adolescents are communicating much more than you ever did. E-mail, text messaging and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have dramatically opened up many more communication vistas for today’s youth. They are literally bombarded with communiqués, but less so face to face.

For many adolescents, actually sitting down and having a conversation face to face for more than a sound byte is an alien process.

With all the post-modern hectic schedules endemic to today’s adolescent, actually sitting down with their parent and having a conversation can be an anxiety producing event, with your adolescent cognitively attending to a dozen other tasks on his agenda.

I am not telling you that the only way to communicate with your adolescent is digitally or through a social networking site, but just be aware that communication is different for this generation. In order to maintain or even open lines of communication with your adolescent, keep in mind that you must deal in the currency he uses. Although clearly not an adult, most adolescents find themselves in that twilight zone of development where they are still in the bodies of children but need desperately to be taken seriously and treated more like adults.

Don’t get locked in a power struggle with your teenager feeling that your authority is slipping away. Many parents perceive the estrangement that exists between them and their adolescent as a personal assault and have the urge to take stronger control on the who, what and where of their adolescent’s world. It is this vying for more control that often breaks down all levels of communication. Bottom line, treat them more like adults and involve them in family decisions as much as you can. This will help keep the lines of communication open.

Next month, I’ll talk more about adolescents and their behavior by elaborating on three more areas of importance: Stop being critical, Choose your battles, and Listen to your adolescent’s ideas.