“I just don’t know how to get him to talk to me.”
This is a common statement I hear from parents about their teen. Parents often desire that their child talks to them and share with them what is happening at school or with their friends.
Developmentally, teens are at a stage when they naturally become more closed off. They are working on their own identity. They are learning to take new perspectives on life and are trying new things —all the reason more why parents hope for more communication from their teen(s).
There are a few common parenting pitfalls that tend to immediately shut down communication. Below are four of the top few to avoid.
1. Story Sharing
Your teen comes home upset after a failed test at school. You immediately remember the Chemistry test you failed in tenth grade and share with her the story. “I know exactly how you are feeling,” you tell her. Although your intention is to express to your child that you’ve been there (and survived, Chemistry isn’t as important as they say it is after all), the message your child hears may be quite different. In fact, you do not know exactly how she or he is feeling. Instead of sharing your personal story, ask her how she is feeling or put a word to how she is feeling: “You seem so upset/disappointed.” Share your story at a later point in time.
2. Making a Judgment
We make judgments all the time. It’s human nature to label things. We, unfortunately, often label things in black and white terms. Good or bad. Judging a teen is a sure fire way to stop a conversation in its tracks. For example, let’s go back to the teen who failed their Chemistry test. A judgmental statement would be, “You are really being dramatic about this.” Another common area in which parents tend to judge are friendships and interests like music, television, and entertainment. As ridiculous as the newest trend or band may be, try not to judge it – instead, learn why your teen is interested.
3. Being Dismissive
Your teen has recently broken up with their boyfriend and is heartbroken. They feel like they’ve lost the love of their life. You respond to them, “This is going to happen a lot, so you really need to learn how to cope with this,” or, “I can’t believe you are acting this way. You need to calm down.” Teens feel things often with more intensity (you can thank hormones for this) than adults. Dismissing or telling them they are overreacting (even if you feel it’s true), will often shut down a conversation. Would you want to share with a person who tells us to feel differently?
4. Immediate Problem Solving
As a therapist, I hear about this one a lot from teens. “I just want to talk to my mom or dad, and not have to solve anything.” As parents, we are problem solvers. We have to be. When our children were toddlers, we had to problem solve constantly (how to prevent them from climbing on the furniture). In elementary school, we problem solved school and friend issues. Often our child wanted our help and expertise during their early years. As teens, this often shifts. Very frequently, teens just want parents to be an ear, someone to listen. So, try to listen rather than problem solve. If you feel like your teen is wanting advice, ask them directly if they want advice. Otherwise, listen.
The truth is, the more we listen, truly listen, the more they are likely to share.