Why So Many Teens Tell Me They Can’t Talk to Their Parents-- How You Can Improve Communication with Your Teen
I often have parents come into my office and say, “My teen won’t talk to me.” I meet with the parent(s) and they discuss their concern about their child not opening up to them. They talk about the teen’s tendency to withdraw, and they wonder what is going on. I later meet with the teen alone and the teen says something like, “I can’t talk with my parents…they just don’t understand me.” This can be a frightening experience for parents. Their child hits adolescence and suddenly (or so it seems) they feel distant from their child.
Adolescence is such an exciting time. Teens are figuring out who they are, forming their own opinions, using critical thinking skills, and exploring new relationships. While allowing for increased independence during adolescence is important, parents should continue to play an active role in the lives of their teens throughout the adolescent years. Parental monitoring is essential for supporting teens with making safe choices, reducing risky behavior, and providing guidance and support that teens will need as they begin to prepare for adulthood. Parents who are good listeners are going to be able to connect with their teens most effectively. Teens who feel connected to their parents are more likely to go to their parents when they really need help and support (e.g. teens will follow through with calling Mom or Dad if they drink at a party and need a safe ride). Listening well to your teen’s perspective before analyzing or offering advice will promote good connection and will allow your teen to be more receptive to your coaching and guidance.
With the best of intentions, many parents are quick to give advice, judge, interrupt with their own thoughts, and lecture their teens instead of truly listening and trying to understand their perspective. When this happens, teens do not continue to talk and explain their point of view. Rather, they shut down and think to themselves “They just don’t get it.” For example, your teenage daughter comes home from school in tears, and through the tears she manages to tell you that she had a fight with her best friend after the friend told a popular boy that she had a crush on him in front of five other people. Your daughter tells you they’ll never be friends again, she now hates her friend and she will never be able to walk past this boy in the hallway at school again because she was humiliated. She also said she wants to quit the track team because she thinks the coach is out to get her.
Oh my. Sound dramatic? Maybe so, and you probably know that your daughter and this girl will be best friends again by the end of the week, that she is one of the better athletes on the track team, and all your child needs to do is take a deep breath (see previous post) and view tomorrow as a new day. You are probably right. However, in the moment, your daughter is not going to listen if you tell her that this will all blow over, she will make up with her best friend soon, she always makes a big deal out of nothing, and she is definitely not quitting the track team. In fact, she’ll probably become more upset and think that you just don’t understand how awful things were for her today.
Instead, your teen wants to know that you get how hurt and upset they are. Think about how your teen’s reaction would be different if you responded with, “Oh wow, Sweetie, that is really tough. You are embarrassed that your friend said that. What happened next?” They are going to keep talking, giving you more information about their day, and they will walk away from the conversation thinking that you are supportive.
Here are some tips for good communication with your children:
Side note: This works for communication with your partner too!
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
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