Guest post author Elizabeth Donovan is a psychotherapist, mom to three little girls, freelance writer, and owner of ParentingPink.com, a parenting site dedicated to raising strong, resilient girls.
“Mom, you are so lame! I hate you!”
Raising a teenager is difficult. Maintaining a strong relationship in the midst of raging hormones and endless arguing can be one of the most difficult challenges of parenthood.
I have listened to parents struggling with their teens express a heartfelt desire to build a better relationship, but often they have no idea where to begin. Good communication is an essential building block to a strong relationship between parents and teens. Learning how to talk to your teen will open doors for both of you and serve to strengthen your relationship.
- Listen “Actively.” One of the key components to developing a healthy relationship with your teen is to actively listen to what they say.
- Stop what you are doing.
- Look directly at your teen and give her your full attention.
- Listen carefully to what she is saying and comment on what you think you heard. You might do this by rephrasing what was said to you.
- Be sure to give your teenager an answer or ask her to repeat herself if you don’t understand what she is trying to say.
- Be respectful. Treat your teen the same way you would like to be treated.
· Keep your anger and frustration to a minimum. Try to be responsive, not reactive. This may be difficult when your teen is asking you for something you disagree with, but the key is for parents to take their emotional responses out of the equation. It’s better to take a break than to say something impulsive and risk damaging your relationship.
· Give your teen ownership of the problem. Often, parents want to fix their teen’s problem. Unfortunately, that response can be self-serving. When your daughter gets a D on her report card, whose problem is it? Your response should be brief and to-the-point: ask her how she’s going to manage it, give consequences, and be done with it. The more worked-up you get, the less likely she will attempt to resolve it herself.
· Get it in writing. Often, good communication fails because there is a genuine misunderstanding among parents and teenagers. You said, “Be home by midnight,” but your teen heard “Be home ‘around’ midnight.” It’s a good idea to write down rules to minimize misunderstandings.
· Role model. Though they often won’t admit it, teenagers scrutinize your “every” move. If they see you break rules, they’ll believe its ok for them to do the same.
· Reserve one-on-one time. Once children reach adolescence, parents often think that doing things together is less important. After all, don’t teenagers really want to be with their friends all the time? The truth is that most adolescents long for time with their family or going to the mall with mom, but are afraid to ask for it. So, offer your teen special time with you. It can provide fun conversations and important memories.
· Give praise and reframe statements. Its human nature to point out the negatives, but often takes an act of courage to say what’s right. Pay attention to the things your teenager does that are worthy of praise. If you have a complaint, try to positively reframe it. For example, “I appreciate it when you pick your clothes up off the floor” rather than, “Pick your clothes up or else you’re on restriction this weekend”.
· Share your feelings. When you share your genuine feelings about an issue, your teen may be less resistant. For example, “I worry when I can’t get hold of you on your cell” allows your teen to understand your perspective.
· Never reject your teen. There are many times parents get so frustrated and overwhelmed by their teenagers behavior that they shut them out. Walking away from your teen or refusing to talk with her will only serve to drive a damaging wedge in your relationship. Parental rejection is often the root of more severe behavioral problems in teens. If you feel you absolutely cannot deal with your teenager, it’s best to contact a mental health professional to help sort things out.
And remember, the key to any lasting, loving relationship is good communication and mutual respect.