HOW TO COMMUNICATE BETTER WITH YOUR TEENAGER
Of all the stages in your child’s growth, the teenage years can be particularly challenging. Teenagers go through lots of developmental and hormonal changes, not to mention the pressure of fitting in with their peers, managing an increase in course load, and preparing to apply to college. It’s especially trying for parents as you realize your child isn’t communicating in the same way (if at all!) as he or she used to.It’s important to remember, though, that these changes are normal for adolescents. Kris Sabel, a nurse and education professional at GEMS World Academy-Chicago, describes the teenage brain as “a computer not wired to the network.” She said that research shows that teenagers tend to access the part of the brain that governs emotions when making decisions. The part of the brain responsible for “higher” functions – reason, problem solving – has not yet matured in adolescents. It keeps developing into a person’s early-20s, she said.
Adolescence is also the time when children begin to detach from parents and seek membership in a peer group, Sabel said. While it can be difficult to accept that your teen may prefer to talk or spend time with peers now, it’s crucial to overcome that barrier. “Like you, your teen wants to be respected, heard and validated,” Sabel said. “Keeping the lines of communication open is essential for parents to remain the most influential people in a teenager’s life.”
Here are some tips for breaking down the wall and connecting with your teen:
Arrange a regular time to re-connect and communicate. Between your job and home responsibilities, and their school work and extra-curricular activities, families are often overwhelmed with juggling their busy schedules that communication is limited to logistics (Who’s picking you up? Did you finish your homework?) Make it a point to carve out time to put the phones and day planners away, and focus on talking as a family. This may mean Sunday dinners as a family or regular talks before/after school. Creating the routine will give you and your child a chance to discuss any issues or concerns, and since you’ve set the expectation, they’ll be in the habit of opening up during this time.
Talk less, listen more. All parents want the best for their kids and they all have an opinion of what “the best” looks like. It’s easy to be reactive to your children, tell them what you think they need to do or how they need to change. HealthyChildren.org calls this the “parent alarm.” Instead, make it a point to listen to your teenager and ask questions to gain more insight into what they’re going through. Evaluate what your child is looking for before offering feedback. They may just need to vent or want you to say, “I understand” or “that’s too bad” and not offer any advice at all. By listening and answering questions, you’ll be able to respond accordingly and avoid doling out unwanted advice.
Be aware of body language and eye contact. Communication is more than words; it’s also the way you carry yourself and your body’s physical responses. You may feel most comfortable with a hand on your hip or with your arms folded across your chest, but these gestures are uninviting and make it difficult for your teen to talk to you. Psychology Today suggests talking while driving in a car or walking to avoid extended direct eye contact (which can be perceived as aggressive) and make your teen feel more comfortable.
Use caution when inserting yourself into the conversation. It will be tempting to compare your own experiences to theirs or say, “Well, when I was your age…” Some teens may find it comforting that you understand what they’re going through, but most will get defensive and think that you don’t see their problems as special or unique. You know your child better than anyone, so it’s up to you to determine which tact is the most effective. If you do think your child would take comfort in hearing your experience, then first acknowledge the differences between the differences in the situations (you didn’t have a smart phone growing up, you went to a smaller high school, etc.) before moving on to the similarities.
The easiest way to create a rift or disconnect with your teenager is not to communicate. All parents find it difficult, especially when hormones are raging and teenagers often say things they don’t mean. Utilizing these strategies will help minimize emotional responses, escalation, and argument. Minimize, not eliminate. But the only thing worse than having communication take a turn for the worse is not communicating at all.
For more information on GEMS World Academy and our Upper School expansion, click here.