Healthy and respectful communication may seem elusive in the teenage phase where growing pains and fluctuating hormones can cause friction in the parent-teen relationship.
Conversations with our teenagers can be unpredictable to say the least; every parent who has parented teens would have experienced monosyllabic answers or “grunts” that tell you they don’t feel like talking, having to tell them to “watch their tone” when they answer with an attitude, and over-the-top outbursts blown out of proportion sometimes over trivial things.
Communication methods which used to work for the savvy parent in their child’s younger days may cease in their efficacy. Nagging, criticism, threats or standover tactics, such as yelling to force compliance, may only lead to the teen feeling angry, upset, rejected, blamed or unloved.
Clearly by this stage, the parenting script must change and establish as its central feature a sense of mutual respect. But the million-dollar question is, how do we go about establishing it?
First, respecting our children does not mean that we give up our authority over them in the family. In fact, modelling respectful communication as opposed to “do-as-I-say” parenting tells them they are valued and their thoughts and feelings matter.
It allows them to have a voice and be heard, which can be very validating for a teenager who is trying to form their own values and identity.
Nagging, criticism, threats or standover tactics, such as yelling to force compliance, may only lead to the teen feeling angry, upset, rejected, blamed or unloved.
Our respectful communication also guides and models for our teenagers how to manage conflict, negotiate viewpoints that could be different from their own and express their opinions tactfully. What better environment to experience this than in the home!
There are a few ways even well-intentioned parents accidentally undermine the development of this mutually respectful relationship.
What to do
Respectful communication tips with teenagers
These are some ways to keep the lines of communication open:
Knock before you go into the room. Ask if it’s a good time to talk. If it’s not, ask when it will be a good time and respect that. Stop asking so many questions.
Sometimes our impatience can kill conversations with our kids. We want the details and we want it now.
It’s not surprising that our teens clam up when they realise they are on the firing line of our barrage of questions, especially if they sense the questions are coming from a place of judgment or a lack of confidence in them.
Keeping their lips tight doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to share – they simply want to have control over when and how they do it. They also want us to have faith in them.
My daughter once requested for a two-week embargo for me to not raise a discussion on a sensitive issue she was facing. She needed the space to process it on her own.
It was hard but I learnt to respect that this was the time she needed to sort her thoughts and emotions out – before she was ready to talk with anyone.
I’ve learnt from my mistakes – whenever I encroached on their need for space, our communication turned more reactive, and less effective.
Conversely, when I respected their pace, it actually yielded more positive outcomes, and we were often calmer in communicating our thoughts and feelings.
We are all given two ears and one mouth – so we should spend twice as much time listening than talking! If we practise this intentionally, we may realise that teenagers tend to tell us more if we practise the art of listening attentively long enough!
This gives them the opportunity to share at a comfortable pace as opposed to being bombarded by our questions or opinions.
Date your teenager and carve out regular 1-on-1 time with them. It could be catching up over a weekend breakfast or offering to walk them to school or pick them up from places after a long day.
These seemingly mundane routines are all opportunities for extended conversations. Find time to do fun and random things together with your teens – leisure and laughter help build good feelings and rapport.
Listen to their music, laugh with them over their favourite memes, watch the videos that they care to show you. Show up when they are ready to let you into their space! These are anchors to begin understanding their world.
Throughout their adolescence, young people tend to struggle with the need to be accepted and loved without judgement. Rejoice in their achievements, be compassionate when they make mistakes, and guide and support them in their problem-solving.
Respectful communication truly leads to healthy relationships with your soon-to-be adult children. With a relationship built on respect, your children will desire to connect and consult with you even when they become adults. It is worth reflecting on our communication habits for this purpose alone!
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