Parents often feel that they’ve entered a new planet, or at least a foreign country, when their sweet innocent children become teenagers. Adolescence is a developmental period where identity, responsibility, maturity, and hormones can bring about changes, heightened emotions, and a whole new set of tools for parents to master. Teenagers get a bad reputation, for being moody, rebellious, or sullen. In reality, some of the tension and turmoil that mark an adolescent’s development is a sign of a growing frontal lobe, changing communication patterns, and a differing dynamic within the home. It is a myth that teenagers no longer want rules, or parents – they just may be expressing their need for structure or consistency in different ways. We’ve compiled a resource to make communicating with and parenting teenagers a little easier.
First off, remember that teenagers still do want and need communication with their parents. It doesn’t always sound like they do! The sullen responses, the tone of irritation, and the pull from friends and technology can leave parents feeling rejected and confused when they attempt to reach out and connect with their teens. Open communication with parents is a protective factor against alcohol and substance abuse, as well as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Many times, when parents attempt to open up the lines of communication, a teenager reports feeling interrogated, attacked, or accused. To have a meaningful and reciprocal interaction with your teen means including more curiosity, and less lecturing. Parents instinctively try to hide their own adolescent experimentation and boundary testing, yet by sharing these experiences appropriately with their child, they may increase trust and create room for a teen to open up more. Listen actively. If your child shares something with you that goes against your values or household rules, inquire about your teen’s reasoning. Ask them what an appropriate consequence may be. By showing genuine curiosity about the person your teen is becoming, you are demonstrating respect for that identity, and your are less likely to be “shut out” for “not understanding.”
Another tip would be to ask before advising. It may feel counter-intuitive to your role – you are the parent, your job is to guide your adolescent. Yet by simply asking first, “May I share my perspective?” you are priming your teen to be receptive, and demonstrating that you honor their autonomy. Be ok with them saying “No!” because their natural curiosity will likely work against that being a permanent answer. Showing them that you respect and trust their decision will help an adolescent see that their new and changing world is not “Me versus them” (them being parents) but rather “My parents are on my side.”
Reflect on your own adolescent experience, and attempt to put aside any of your own childhood issues that may be exacerbating relationship conflict with your teen. This is a time for testing your love, your boundaries, and your safety. Staying consistent, calm, and receptive proves the unconditional nature of your love – however taxing that may be in the moment. When you take your teenagers attacks personally, it damages the relationship. Speak to the consequences of how hurt their words feel to you, but remember that the foundation of love, safety, and acceptance is unwavering.
Topics that are tough to talk about are the most important. Technology and screen time are battles that we likely did not have in our own adolescence, and the boundaries and restrictions with devices and social media are somewhat of uncharted territory. Work with your teen to discuss healthy media usage, and use resources like the film Screenagers: Growing Up In The Digital Age to help create compromise and understanding of technology rules. Talking about sexual education is also another important and tough topic. Some schools discuss the mechanics of sexual functioning, but may not discuss sexual health, pregnancy and disease prevention, and relationship health. Dating behaviors, dating violence, and sexual violence are rarely discussed in schools, and having open dialogues are critical to ensure that your values are imparted to your child.
Talking to teenagers can feel like a minefield, yet with the right support, tools, and information, it is a continuation of the parenting you’ve been doing all along. Remember that teens need security and consistency, and that you were once a teen, too. But most of all, remember that teens need this communication, and if you need help, call us! We are here to help.