Having teenagers can be a challenging task. As parents, we are aware that their time at home is growing shorter. We want to impart all of our wisdom, give them the skills that they need to succeed away from home, and basically, we want to survive the experience with our sanity (and our child’s well-being) intact.
Listening to your teen involves more than learning their particular lexicon
As you undoubtedly remember those rough years (and many of us try and forget a lot of them), the one thing that was paramount, was to be understood. Today’s teens are no different. They want to be heard, understood. They want their opinions and feelings validated. To a teen, this is a representation of your love, respect and trust. All three of these are signs of approval that they crave.
There are different ways to respond to your teen.
You can become more authoritarian and dictate the rules, with no flexibility.
You can swing to the other end of the pendulum and become their best friend, with no boundaries; dress like them, talk like them.
Certainly, each of these parental styles is an extreme. If you strive to be in the middle of the parental spectrum, you can have a balanced approach.
Some parenting styles fall into the This is what you should be feeling because I said so and I am always right mode.
Whenever you are communicating with anyone, if your motive is to prove that you are right or to ridicule, judge or explain why the other person is wrong, communication is not occurring. You are talking at someone, not talking to or with them.
1. Be a detective
What is your teen interested in?
What is his or her favorite music?
Who is the latest big thing?
Show that you are interested in your teen’s life by gathering some background knowledge about the topics that they are interested in. This gives you not only insight to see if there is any reason for concern, but allows you to try and understand your teen better.
When you are able to ask them informed open-ended questions about what is going on, they will see that you are looking for more than Yeah, or the teenage grunt of a reply. This is not to say that you need to become obsessed with the same things that they are, simply show that their interests are valid.
2. Try and find a common hobby
Having something to do as one-on-one time with your teen can be very enjoyable. Often, while engaged in these special moments, the pressure of communication is lessened and you are both more comfortable. Conversation can happen more smoothly. It may be going to the driving range or making gingerbread houses, but if you are engaged with other activities, conversation can flow.
The earlier you set up these family traditions and combined, quiet activities, the better. It will be something that is well established by the teen years when your child’s once active (and nonstop) talking seems to shut down.
3. Find ways to talk to your teen about your teenage years (without sounding preachy)
Watching the popular teen movies from your era, and some from theirs as well, can open the door for meaningful conversation with your teen. You can both see how things have been the same, and how they have changed.
When listening to your teen, remember the key is to listen, not to talk. You are listening for understanding, rather than to try and convince your teen to do things your way. If you listen to your teen and they feel understood, they are more likely to listen to your point of view and accept your wisdom.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.