Productive Communication with Teenagers: Tips for Parents on Improving Communication with Their Teen

Is this scene familiar? The teenager furiously storms out of the room, leaving the angry parent perplexed and frustrated. “Now what in heaven’s name set THAT off?” Without a doubt, talking openly to your teenagers actually must start in childhood. Letting your child talk freely about her day while cuddling in bed makes her know that she can say what’s on her mind and heart without being judged by you. But, as childhood turns into “teen-hood”, communication may become more difficult as peers become more and more influential. Be that as it may, you can still have those long heart-to-heart talks with your child to remain connected.

When you want to have a heartfelt conversation, here are some factors to consider for productive communication with teenagers.

Find the Right Time

DON’T tell your teenager that you want to talk when he is in the middle of doing something important. Even though you think the WII game or chatting on Facebook are NOT important, they ARE to him.

DO find a time when both of you are relaxed. A lazy Sunday afternoon as you sit out in the yard watching the dogs play or on a walk around the neighborhood would be conducive to open dialogue. You can schedule a time you both agree on, like a date night, when you can have a pizza together at home. It doesn’t have to cost much. What is more valuable is that you both give each other your full attention. You can even agree to turn off cellphones even for just that time you are together.

Find the Right Place

DON’T try talking to your teenager in front of her friends. While your kid may love you to pieces, having you talking with her friends around may only embarrass her.

DO choose a neutral place which is pleasant for both of you. A restaurant may be a good venue, though make sure it’s not so noisy that you can’t hear each other over the din. The park or even your garden are perfect places to have a quiet and heartfelt conversation.

Finding the Right Words

DON’T use conversation “mines”. Conversion “mines” are words and phrases carelessly scattered in the sentence that can set off an explosion, like “You NEVER…”, “You’re ALWAYS…”, “When I was YOUR AGE…”, “You don’t understand/you don’t know/you don’t think…”, “You CANNOT…” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

DO focus on the behavior rather than on the individual. This way, it becomes less of a personal attack and more of a statement of how a particular behavior or attitude has affected you. For example: If you want to discuss, say, breaking the curfew, try not to say the usual, “You ALWAYS come home so late!” or you say, “You are so inconsiderate for coming home so late!” Instead, try saying “When you come home late, darling, it makes me worried because I don’t know where you are and if you’re okay.”

DO be careful in raising issues against their friends. Attacking her friend by citing a friend’s disagreeable traits (as far as you are concerned) will only alienate your teenager. In such a situation where your teenager has a friend you do not approve of, don’t say “I don’t want you to go with that guy. He’s a bad influence.” Instead, try, “I am concerned that you’re spending a lot of time with so-and-so, and not with your other friends anymore. What is it about him that you like?” This way, you open the line of communication. By encouraging her to think about the reasons she is attracted to this friend, this may just make her realize that the so-called friend is not that great after all. Many teenagers complain that parents listen but with closed minds. Open your mind as you listen. You may discover something about your child that may help you develop a closer relationship with her.

One last thing. Terms of endearment, like darling, honey, pumpkin or whatever you used to call your teenager when he was little, will help soften the sting of what you say. Use them frequently.

Consider Your Tone and Volume

DON’T be sarcastic. A sarcastic tone makes even the most innocent statement offensive. It ridicules or taunts the receiver. Saying something like, “Sure! You’re SO INTELLIGENT that you know more than me!” or “Who am I anyway? I’m JUST your mother, or don’t you remember?”

DON’T be overly dramatic. It’s a sure-fire dialogue damper. Saying something like, “Go ahead! Just kill me. I mean nothing to you anyway!” won’t win any sympathy from a teenager. If he says that to you, you may expect it. He is, after all, a teenager and therefore still very emotional. You, on the other hand, are supposed to be the mature one.

DO keep your voice down even though she doesn’t. Listening becomes impossible when decibels are high. But you say, “Well, she’s raising HER voice. So I have to raise mine to be heard.” Remember, YOU are the parent and she’s the younger one. If there is anyone who should have the capacity for more patience and understanding, it should be you.

Think About Facial Expressions and Gestures

DON’T send off negative vibes with your body language. Leave the rolling of the eyes to your youngster. Crossing your arms, putting your arms on your waist, clenching your fist or your teeth, holding your head, pulling your hair or sticking out your tongue (really?), well, all these simply scream to your teen that you are not open to listening.

DO touch, stroke or even hug as you talk to each other. These gentle gestures show that you care for his feelings. Remember when you used to cuddle when she was younger?

DO kiss and hug each other after and say I LOVE YOU, especially after a difficult dialogue.

Handling Disagreements

Disagreeing with each other is part and parcel of any relationship. When you argue, it doesn’t mean you don’t love each other…it just means that your child is trying to stretch the boundaries of her independence, while you are trying to put limits for her safety.

Let’s say your teenager wants to go with friends to the mall and then sleep over at her girlfriend’s house. Your first impulse is to say no because you’re afraid they’d stay out too late and get into trouble. Why not try this, instead of immediately saying NO? Ask her for the names of those she will be with and take down the cellphone numbers of those you know (if you don’t already). Ask her up to what time the group will be in the mall and to text you or call you when they get to her friend’s house. Ask her too whose car they will be riding, who will be driving and, if they will take a cab, to text you the cab number. Remember not to sound like it is an inquisition. Ask all these questions gently and simply explain to her that you need to ask these questions so that you will know that she is safe. When your teenager feels that your questioning is reasonable, she will freely tell you the details and even thank you! Finding a solution which is win-win for both of you shows the soundness of your relationship.

In order to make sure time spent involves productive communication with your teenager and not arguments, consider the time and place you have your talk. Check your tone and volume, your words, your facial expressions and gestures. All the effort will be worth it when you and your teenager can have a heartwarming bonding time, talking about things that matter to both of you.