6 Tips on how to communicate with your teenage kid
Teenagers crave validation. Even if they pretend to be too cool for soul-talks, they long for open talks with parents.
Parents take a hard hit when they realize that their little, adorable kids are no more little and try their best NOT to appear adorable when they hit their teens. It takes time for moms and dads to process the changes: they look different, they speak differently, and they shut doors (literally and figuratively) for open communication.
Understanding your teenage son or daughter requires a lot more patience than parenting a little child. While you might think they are turning down all your initiatives to talk, they might actually be craving for a deeper connection with you. One that allows them to share the secrets of their emotionally charged and hormone-driven world.
Here are 6 insights to open channels of communication and build a strong bond with your teenage child.
1. He's a growing young adult, not a child
Developmental psychologists emphasize that teenage is the time to explore one's sense of self. This is in direct conflict with the parenting style we had to adopt when they were kids. Telling them what to do was important for their safety and giving them a sense of direction. Children yearned familiarity and routine. Teenagers? Well, they just hate everything that is perceived as a threat to their newly sprouting, but still hazy, identity.
This includes rules, curfews, chores, and routines that were good for them earlier and part of your family rituals. That's why telling never works, ever. And don't take their rebellion too personal. They are just playing out their biological and psychological developmental urges that are necessary for them to become healthy, independent individuals. If you need things done, having a conversation about it, even if that means just picking the trash and answering their questions about why they need to do it, is important.
2. Parallel worlds exist
Yours and theirs. These two worlds are far too away from each other. A teenager who shuts him, or herself in the bathroom for an hour on a weekday morning, making you late for work and themselves late for school, is not insensitive, and not at all selfish. For you, the meeting at work, the not-so-understanding boss, and appointment that afternoon are pressing and critical.
For him, his changing features or a pimple could determine if he has the courage to approach his friends without doubting himself. For a young girl, her growing curves and how her body could be perceived by her peers is scary. She might be scrutinizing herself in the mirror from all possible angles hoping she's good enough to be accepted by her friends in school.
Or, she might be overplaying a bully's remark and hopelessly wishing she had smaller arms or a thinner nose. Having to face a tough and judgemental world can be life-threatening. You see? Two parallel worlds, far removed from each other, exist on a Monday morning, in the same household.
3. Listen. You just heard that. Now listen.
Teenagers need to be listened to. Beneath all their I'm-too-cool-for-this attitude and you-just-don't-get-me reactions, is still your child wanting to be recognized in his new, still-evolving version. He needs to know that you value the work-in-progress self that he is. Being a good listener involves:
- being genuinely interested to know what they are going through
- feeling what they feel, not just hearing what they say
- being in sync with them, moment-to-moment, rather than waiting to give your response
- holding back judgments, reactions, opinions until they are fully listened to
- responding from a place of understanding, rather than knowing
4. Praise, and praise some more
The idea that compliments go to their head and make them more self-involved is incorrect. Teenagers crave validation because their world is new and changing. Their peers want them to be a certain way; media tells them what's cool and what isn't; advertisements point out where they stand in the social ladder; social media adds immense pressure to be perfect in every way; to top it all, self-taught beliefs about celebrities, beauty, talent, identity triggers self-doubt.
Amidst all this, they need someone to affirm they are fine, just the way they are. Noticing what is good and right about them, however small, builds their trust in you and they will be more open to your not-so-positive feedback. Genuinely acknowledging their kindness, their generosity, their wit, intelligence, their courage to try out new styles (even if you have no idea what's going on in their head when they pick outfits), and their changing body and face, give them little doses of self-confidence that they so desperately yearn.
Acknowledge the little things: A chore they did, a game they won, an essay they wrote and balance them with what psychologists call "unconditional positive strokes" that focus on who they are, not what they do. "You are so smart. I am proud of you. I love how talented you are. You are beautiful/handsome. You are amazing. I love you".
5. Become a curious friend
Your child is growing to be a unique individual. Isn't that exciting? Treat them as an emerging, new friend. Get to know their likes, dislikes, what makes them happy, sad, and what music, bands, and celebs inspire them. Instead of asking them "How was school?" be specific. "How did soccer practice go today?" "Did your friend finally agree to take up painting classes?" "How did that history essay work out?"
This gives them conversational triggers and reassures them that you actually take note of things in their life. Understand that their feelings are real, even if they seem silly to you. A crush choosing another lab partner over them could be heartbreaking for your son, even if you know he will move on. Be with their feeling, instead of telling them that they'll soon be over it.
6. Set rituals; they love it, even if they don't admit it
Set weekly ritual for mom-and-son strolls, or dad-and-daughter basketball games. Ask them what time works for them and how you look forward to these moments. If they are resistant, find pockets of lone time in daily routines. Your drive to school, or the walk back from soccer practice can be used to catch up.
Research reveals that having conversations that don't involve direct eye contact makes children and teenagers open up and share emotions better than they would in direct, face-to-face talks. Use sporadic times as well, such a queue or parking lot to ask about the movie they watched over the weekend.
i) Listen to their feelings, don't just hear their words.
ii) Ask for permission, when you want to give your opinions and advice.
iii) Reduce their compulsive NOs buy asking for their thoughts, instead of telling them what to do.
iv) Let them know you are there to support them, no matter what.
v) Observe them and acknowledge the little things.
vi) Use movies, songs, and their idols as conversation-starters. This is a great way to discuss serious topics.
Here is a list of topics that go a long way in nurturing healthy self-esteem and a sense of security in teens. These are tricky, we agree, and maybe even awkward. But these must-have conversations will give your child first-hand information and let them know you are there to talk, whenever they are unsure of these factors in their life.
- Teen relationships: Crushes, romance, love, and sex
- Family concerns (Quarells between spouses, divorce, financial constraints)
- Illnesses (Any family member going through a medical condition or mental illness impacts a teenager's mental health more than it affects adults).
- Body image (This can include what they feel about their body; you can share your insecurities and how got over them; media-induced body image vs real people and real bodies).
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