Developing Communication With Teens

For parents, transitioning between being a care-giver for young children and a confidante for teens can be rough. It’s very common to for parents to feel confused about where to draw the line with teens about their behavior and how they share information. It is also easy to underestimate how valuable a trusted advisor can be to a teen or a young adult. Here are a few tips to get started on navigating that transition:

1. Don’t let other people tell you that having teenaged children will inevitably be a negative experience. Just like the people who talk down about having children in the first place, the nay-sayers against teens will not hesitate to paint a bleak picture of the challenges we face as our children become young adults. But remember that parent expectations have an enormous impact on outcomes for children, and that doesn’t end when they turn 13. Teens need to know that we believe in them and expect the best for them. Check this article out here for more.

2. Start listening carefully, communicating, and giving your full attention to your child before he or she is a teen. Starting too late is a common problem. It’s much easier to establish strong patterns of communication when children are young than to “break in” once they begin to be more focused on peer relationships.

3. If you didn’t start when your teen was young, it’s not impossible though to build something new…it just takes time. An honest conversation about your desire to change things is a good place to start. One possibility is to find out your teen’s favorite tv show, online personality, music, books or other interests. Without judging, ask what draws your teen to the interest and ask your teen to share it with you. Then start from episode 1, listen to music or the podcast — be in the moment — and share some of his or her world. Remember, this is getting to know your teen, NOT a “teaching moment” so relax the parenting role enough to learn about your teen’s interests and perspectives and find a safe place to spend time together.

4. If you want your teen to share information with you, you have to willing to share too. By the time children become teens, they have learned that information sharing is a reciprocal process and a matter of trust. Think about it, would we really want our children to share all their information with another person who reveals nothing of themselves? Normally we would say that mutual sharing is the healthier path. So it’s up to us as parents to trust teens with more honest disclosure about our joys and challenges than we would when they were younger children. Does this mean they need to know all there is to know or that they should hear about every wrong decision we ever made or every problem that we face? No. It doesn’t. Teens still need security and they are not there to be our support system, but chances are that a 15 year old in a family that is dealing with serious challenges is already aware of the nature and gravity of those challenges, so open communication may be more reassuring than secrecy.

5. Get a clear understanding of the teen brain. You will be glad you did — because suddenly feelings and behaviors start to make sense! The most comprehensive and applicable summary I have come across was published by National Geographic and here’s the link:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text

Once you’ve finished the National Geographic article, why not share it with your teen? A little insight can go a long way.

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