Build Healthy Communication With Teens/Young Adults
Why don't teens talk to parents?
There are several reasons that teens won't talk to parents. Oh yes, they talk, but too many don't talk in any meaningful way. There may be some natural barriers that prevent communication, and there may be some parenting behaviors that prevent teens from communicating with their parents.
The first natural barrier is the age difference. In the '60s this phenomenon was coined, "the generation gap." This term described the difference in experiences between the younger generation and their parents. The younger generation's experiences may be so different from their parents that they can't see their parents' point of view. Communication may falter and the relationship suffers.
Parents interests may not interest or include the teen. Parents may be avid sports fans and do all things sports. Teens may be avid bookworms and do all things literature. Teens may feel happiest when they are discussing the latest in books, and parents may express their most enthusiasm when they are discussing the latest in sports. It can be difficult to have meaningful conversations.
Communication styles may differ drastically. Teens enjoy hearing themselves talk dramatically, about (what parents perceive) common incidents at school: if parents by nature, have a quiet, subdued personality, the conversation may be silenced by their parents' lack of enthusiasm. The teen gets frustrated by their parents lack of enthusiasm, and parents may feel annoyed about the big hoopla over nothing. This will not make for a good conversation.
Personality differences make up for the bulk of stalled conversations between parents and teens. Some parents may be aggressive, and intrusive causing teens to retreat away from their parents and seek consolation from someone else. This frustrates parents and they become more intrusive and aggressive attempting to engage their teens.
Parenting Behavioral Barriers
There are many behaviors parents do that push teens and young adults away. Labeling them is at the top of the list. Have you ever caught yourself labeling your teen? Statements like you are lazy, nerve-wracking, immature, and deceitful, are all labeling statements. They don't inspire teens to do better. Instead statements like these undermine teens and young adults self-confidence. Labeling teens lowers the level of respect towards each other.
Unrealistic expectations instill hopelessness and powerlessness in teens and young adults. They may realize that they can't live up to our expectations and decide not to do anything that is expected of them. The more we talk about their failures, the less they attempt.
Being judgmental is a big barrier to open communication. Parents may not ever call teens and young adults a name, or raise their voices to express displeasure towards them. Body language, hissing sounds, rolling the eyes, asking "why" questions, all insinuate that teens and young adults did something wrong, don't know what they are doing, and are making a big mistake. These behaviors also imply that parents can live their teen's and young adult's lives better than they can.
Breaching the teen's confidentiality is a huge betrayal. If teens and young adults confide in their parents, and parents decide to breach their confidentiality, it can cause a major rift between parents and teens/young adults. They may respond by not trusting, and therefore, not sharing information with parents. It can take years for teens/young adults to rebuild trust within the relationship.
Using information against teens/young adults can cause a major conflict within the relationship. When teens tell parents confidential information, and that information is used to shame, humiliate, punish, or limit the teen/young adult in some way, there is little chance that teens/young adults will share anything else with their parents.
Cell phones, although they are supposed to encourage communication, have become a technological barrier for parents. No one looks at each other eye-to-eye anymore, because their eyes are glued to their screens. Conversation is almost nothing because there is so much to do on cell phones.
Cell phones have become the top environmental barrier. Work has moved just a little bit lower. Making a living is important, however, some parents have allowed things to take the place of time. So they are so busy working for things, that they are missing out on relationships they should be enjoying with their teens.
Good Communication starts with compassion. Before conversations start remind yourself that your teen/young adult is learning to fly. Their first steps may be wobbly, and they may need a supportive hand to hold them up. Be the supportive hand, not a chain dragging them to your conclusion.
Remember what it felt like to be heading to your first job, your first day in high school, your first day in college. Validate their feelings. Encourage them to speak openly about their feelings. Resist the desire to minimize what they are experiencing, or rename their feelings.
Accept the message without sermonizing. They may have been wrong, but if they are telling you about a mistake they made, resist the desire to step in and lecture them on the mistake. It may be best to wait and later explore options for a better outcome next time.
You don't have to fix their problems. They may not be ready for a solution. They may only want to talk about the incident. Go at their pace. Listen to what is happening and why. Ask open-ended questions.
Agree as far as possible. Look for the part of the message that you can agree with, and openly affirm that part. Share your point of view without blaming, shaming or talking down to your teens/young adult.
Jump to no conclusions. Wait until you have all the information needed, before speaking. Be careful not to assume anything about the situation.
Affirm good behavior. Give credit for good decisions that your teen/young adult made, and the efforts they put forward to prevent or resolve issues.
Enjoy the moment. Give as much as you receive. Take off the parenting hat for awhile. See life through their eyes, and smile. Every problem isn't unto complete and total ruin. Some things are funny; smile about those things.
Avoid listening to answer. It's annoying, when the person is so busy listening to themselves, that they aren't listening to you. Pay attention. Make it a point to let them ask you for your opinion or suggestions. Your thoughts will be more welcomed then.
Communication is vital. The quality of communication you have with your teens/young adults will dictate the quality of your relationship. It is difficult to change patterns of communication, but it's not impossible. If you do some of the poor behaviors that were outlined above: stop! Try one new strategy a week to improve communication with your teen/young adult. Be consistent, the reward is well worth the effort. We'd love to hear from you, what is your biggest barrier to communication?