Reasons Why We Fail at Communicating with Teenagers
Parents of teenagers would agree that it can often be difficult to understand and communicate with their kids. Teenagers are developing their own values and belief systems, which can sometimes be different from those of their parents. Their definition of right and wrong also may no longer match with yours. With obvious curbs that parents have to put on their independence, teenagers can seem to become more and more distant.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid while communicating with your teenagers:
• Mistake 1# Treating Them Like Kids: You may unintentionally treat your teens like kids, use a commanding posture, and expect your guidance to be followed perfectly. If your tone is dictatorial, sarcastic or condescending, it can make your kids fearful of you, make them immune to your advices, and they may even start disrespecting you. No doubt, you need to draw boundaries and offer guidance to your young ones, but definitely demonstrate to the child that you are being respectful towards them. We need replace the nagging and criticising with gentle prodding, understanding, and genuine respect for them.
• Mistake 2# Multi-tasking While They are Talking - If you multitask while your teen is talking to you about his/her issues, or simply looking for some opinion from you, you are indirectly sending the message that the conversation isn’t too important for you. Next time your teen comes and talks to you about some problem, put down your laptop, turn off your phone, and just give them the attention they deserve.
• Mistake 3# Completing Their Sentences for Them - Do you try to fast forward the conversations with your teens by jumping to conclusions, or by interrupting their train of thought? Stay silent as much as possible, nod occasionally, and genuinely ‘listen’ to understand their situation well.
• Mistake 4# Disrespecting Them: Do you make fun of your teenager (e.g. are you not even man enough to deal with that bully?) or do you tend to share his/her personal stories with others without their permission? If you don’t exhibit trust to your teen, it will become very difficult for them to open up to you regarding their problems.
• Mistake 5# Blaming the Person, Not the Behaviour: If your teen does something wrong/ distasteful, curb the urge to blame the kid, try to address the behaviour. It is extremely important not to make it personal. Be specific as to what you need to address and avoid labelling them with adjectives that can have a lasting impact on them. Say ‘you left your plate on the dining table again, I don’t appreciate having to tidy up after you. Next time please rinse it in the sink after you finish your meal.” We want to avoid an emotional outburst instead, such as “oh god, you are so messy. What a lousy person you have become, you are absolutely useless.” In the latter sentence, in addition to contributing to lowering the self esteem of your teen by calling them messy, lousy or useless, you have neither vocalised the key problem, nor given them a course of action to remedy the behaviour.
• Mistake 6# Being Judgemental and Emotional : What is your reaction when your kid comes home and tells you he was caught smoking in the school’s toilet, and promises never to do it again? Do you yell at your child and tell him/her how disappointed you are? Label them as a bad kid and wonder where did your parenting go wrong. This kind of reaction is a sure shot recipe for creating distance between yourselves and your teen. Now think of a situation where a friend’s son comes to you for advice about wanting to quit smoking. Do you have the same jerky and emotional reaction? Surely you can give rational advice with ease. If you can stay calm and advise rationally to your friend’s son, you can do it with your child too.
• Mistake 7# Scheduling a “Face to Face Talk”- Do not schedule a face to face conversation and make ‘the talk’ sound like a dreadful event. It has been observed teens open up a lot more in a ‘sideways talk’ scenario. For instance, it might be less daunting for them to share their feelings when sitting side by side in the car, or in a movie theatre or even over a hike/walk.
• Mistake 8# Lecturing Them On an Empty Stomach - It may sound silly but with their changing hormones and growth spurts, it would be wise to feed them before trying to get into an argument with them.
• Mistake 9# Flouting Rules Yourselves - You are still role models for your kids. You want to model positive behaviour around them, instead of simply lecture them about it. For instance, if you want them to stay away from smoking and alcohol, you shouldn’t consume it in front of them. You want them to talk politely to elders, you need to talk politely to every family member and friends too.
• Mistake 10# Criticising Everything - Pick your battles wisely. Some problems are more critical than others. If you criticise your teen every now and then, they will be unable to differentiate between something that’s seriously critical over something that’s mundane. For instance, you can skip nagging about the kind of make-up they wear, or the kind of music they listen to. Instead save your constructive criticism for their unscheduled absences or their declining grades. Additionally, don’t forget to praise them for their positive acts.
• Mistake 11# Offering Unsolicited Advice: Our job is to be available to our teens when they need us / our suggestions. Sometimes the teen just wants to talk, wants to use parents as a sounding board to bounce off some ideas. Help them navigate that space, pose thoughtful questions so that they can dive deeper into their issue. Have them look at the issue through various lenses, without telling them what to do. Offer advice only if they ask for it.
• Mistake 12# Holding Back Love: You may think it is uncool to express love to your teen. Or they have shrugged you off several times asking to stop cuddling them. Replace embraces with alternative ways to display affection. It can be in the form of a coffee date, or a joint afternoon spa appointment. It can also be trying your hand at their new video game or serving up their favourite iced tea on a day they seem stressed or anxious.
• Mistake 13# Staying Secretive : Don’t expect your teen to open up to you with their secrets if you don’t reciprocate. Try and show your vulnerable side to your kids, tell them the times you messed up, how you wish you had not done those things, and lessons you learned from those events. Allow them into your life and you would be surprised how they also start opening up to you.
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Our kids are at a stage when they are going through a lot. Their bodies are changing, so are their relationships. They are trying to figure out what they are good it; they are trying to forge their character, and find their place in this world. It can be a lot to process and become overwhelming. They need us parents to help the navigate and light their path, to ease their journey. But for that, they need to trust us. They need to know we won’t judge them or belittle them. That no matter what, we will be there to see them fail, see them win, help them learn their lessons, and give them the courage to move on despite life’s setbacks.