COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR ADOLESCENT
Good communication with your teenager is one of the foundations of good parenting. It is even more important in stressful situations, such as what your family is going through. As children become adolescents, they normally get more involved with peers and talk less to parents. Less communication with parents can be a normal part of establishing independence. Teenagers still want and need to communicate with their parents, feel close to their parents, and be able to turn to their parents when they have problems or when they need to talk. Here are some tips for how to establish good communication with your teenager.
Listening is the single best thing you can do to establish good communication. Listening sounds simple, but often isn’t.
- Let your teenager finish his thoughts.
- Let him tell the whole story.
- Don’t try to immediately fix the situation.
- Remember that listening doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with everything he says.
Sometimes he just needs to talk and know that you care enough to try to understand. You don’t have to interrupt, agree or disagree, or come up with an immediate solution to his problems. For starters, you just have to listen. Following are some simple listening rules.
Try to focus on what your teen is saying, rather than thinking about what you want to say back. Stop what you are doing, if you need to, in order to pay attention. Get rid of distractions so that you can listen well.
Repeat from Time to Time
Sometimes you can restate things your teenager has said in order to make sure you’ve got it right. This helps you understand, and also shows that you are listening. Be careful not to jump to conclusions when you repeat. For example, if your teenager says, “I forgot to call my probation officer yesterday. I don’t know why I have to call in every week. I’m doing fine. That’s a stupid rule.” you could say:
Show good listening such as, “So, you wonder why you have to call in when you’re doing fine, right?” or “Sounds like it’s hard to remember to call Mr. Johnson when you’re doing okay, right?”
Examples of poor listening (jumping to conclusions) “So, you want to break the rules again, right?” or, “You know you have to call Mr. Johnson every week, so just go do it right now.”
Ask Questions Occasionally
Asking occasional questions shows you are listening and interested. Be careful not to ask too many questions or to take over the conversation with questions. In the example above, you might ask, “What did Mr. Johnson say when you talked to him last week?” or “What if you gave him a call today?”
When your teenager is talking to you about a concern or a problem, try not to judge or criticize him while you are in “listening mode.” Listen first. Hold your opinions until later, after your adolescent has finished.
Show that you are trying to understand how your teen feels. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with what your teenager is saying, it is still helpful to put yourself in your teen’s shoes and communicate that you understand how he or she feels.
Use “Door Openers” Rather Than “Door Closers” in Communicating
Door Openers – Encourages your teen to talk openly.
“Tell me what happened.” “What do you think is the right thing to do?” “How do you feel about that?” “What happened next?” “That’s a good question.”
Door Closers – Makes your teen reluctant to open up.
“I don’t want to hear that kind of talk.” “So what?” “I’ll tell you what you ought to do…” “Why are you asking me?” “Don’t come crying to me if you end up in a mess.”
Other Communication Pointers
Communicate in Specifics
Teenagers need specifics, especially when it comes to communicating about rules and expectations. When giving your teenager instructions or feedback, talk about specific behaviors, not personalities or generalities. Also, whenever possible, tell the teen what to do, rather than just what not to do.
Talk About Behavior, Not Personal Traits
For example, if your teenager has failed to do his chores you might say, “You haven’t finished your chores; I want you to get them done,” instead of, “You think you’re too old to do chores?” or “If you weren’t so irresponsible, I wouldn’t have to remind you.”
Talk About Specifics, Not Generalities
For example, it’s better to say, “Last week, you weren’t ready to leave to go to treatment on time,” instead of “You’re never on time when we have to leave to go to treatment; you mess around every week.”
Take a Break When Things Get Heated: Parent–teenager arguments are a normal part of raising children. It is typical to periodically disagree or have conflicts with your teenager. Sometimes you can tell that you or your adolescent is getting very angry or frustrated. As the adult, it’s your responsibility to know when things are getting too heated and to take appropriate action. You may notice yourself getting angry and raising your voice, or you may notice your teenager getting angry or heated. When this happens try some of the following responses.
Stop and take a break from the disagreement, and let things cool down. You can always say, “I want to take some time and think about this before we talk anymore.” Your teenager may try to keep arguing, but just let it go for now.
Learn When It’s Time to Stop. The time to stop is before things have escalated to the point that people are saying or doing things that they will regret. Learn where this point is with your teenager. Learn where this point is with yourself—and stop the discussion before it is too late. If your teenager calls for a break first, respect that. Come back to the issue later, when things have settled down.
Once you start the break, be patient. Ordering your teenager to “calm down” will rarely get him to calm down; in fact, it may backfire. It may take time for him to accept the need for a break in the conversation.
Remember, strong anger reduces on its own with time. Things will cool down. The disagreement may still be there, and that’s normal. Nobody stays angry permanently. Sometimes physical activity such as walking, running, and exercising, can help reduce the intensity of the anger.
Remember, “getting your anger out” often makes things worse, not better. People rarely get anything settled by yelling, screaming, name calling, or violence. It is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to act out on the anger in harmful ways. In years past, people thought that it was healthy to let negative feelings out toward other people such as by yelling and hitting objects. This approach, however, is often not helpful and can harm your relationship in the long run.
Return to the conversation topic after everyone has calmed down. “Taking a break” should not be used to avoid important topics. Rather the break is designed to cool everyone down so when you return to communicating, better decisions can be made.
Be Ready to Communicate Openly When You Least Expect It You can’t always predict when your teenager will want to talk to you. It rarely occurs when the parent tries to push it. If you push it, you may get a response of “I don’t know,” or “Who cares?” At other times, the teen may begin to open up on his own, when you least expect it. The key is to be ready to use good communication skills when these times occur. Making time for positive activities with your teenager can increase the likelihood of your teen communicating with you. For example, going fishing, cooking a meal, or going grocery shopping together provides opportunities for communication.
Give Your Adolescent a Hug Every Day and Tell Them That You Love Them This is a first step in starting good communication. This will let them know that you support them and care about them.
Talking with Your Adolescent about Sex, Sexuality, and Relationships
While it’s important to understand various aspects of your teen’s illegal sexual behavior, it’s equally important to have good communication with him about sex and sexuality in general. Accurate information about sexual behavior and open communication on the topic is important for all teenagers, that is, youth who have and youth who have not had illegal sexual behavior. Communication that is in line with and supports your values is equally critical.
Studies have shown that most American teenagers learn more about sex and sexuality from peers and from the media than from their parents. Studies also show that teens would like to be able to talk with their parents about sexual topics. Being able to provide good information and to commu-nicate appropriately on sexual topics is helpful to all families, especially those in which sexual behavior has been problematic.
Basics about sexual development in older children and adolescents. At about 10 years of age, children begin to experience changes in their bodies known as puberty. They grow taller and begin to gain weight, and their sexual organs begin to develop and enlarge. As they enter adolescence, other changes occur, including breast and penis development, menstruation, growth of pubic and facial hair, and changes in hormones. The changes in hormones affect adolescents’ sexual interests, thoughts, and behaviors.
Most teens know about sexual intercourse, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, they often have lots of misinformation, such as thinking that birth control pills will prevent STIs. Some teens participate in health education programs through their schools. Research has shown that these teens are better informed than those who obtain information from the media or from other adolescents. Participation in sex education programs results in teens
- delaying the onset of sexual intercourse;
- having less frequent sex;
- increasing the use of contraceptives when they become sexually active; and
- having fewer sexual partners.
Studies show that—whether parents like it or not—the majority of US adolescents are engaging in some form of sexual behavior during their teenage years. However, the rates of sexual activity by teens have decreased in the last two decades.
It is normal for teens to explore and experiment with sexual behavior. It is not unusual for this experimentation with sexual behavior to include same-sex peers, regardless of sexual orientation.
Although adolescents can describe the risks involved with sexual activity, such as STIs or pregnancy, they rarely think that these problems will affect them. They don’t know that about 25 percent of their peers who are sexually active have contracted an STI. Some STIs, such as herpes and AIDS, have no known cure.
Given your son’s or daughter’s history of illegal sexual behavior, it is important for you to stress that normal and legal sexual behavior involves activity between peers that is clearly based on consent. “Consent” means that 1) both participants agree to the behavior, 2) there is no force, pressure, or violence, and 3) the participants are of legal age and capable of giving consent.
The “age of consent” varies from state to state and can be quite complicated to interpret correctly in some states. This is a good question to discuss and clarify with your teen’s attorney.
Many parents are uncomfortable talking with their children about sex. They think that teenagers should not be having sex and that talking about sex gives the wrong message. Some believe that sex should only take place within a marriage. But the reality in our society is that many teens are sexually active. They are being bombarded with messages about sex and sexuality from their peers and from the media. Given this reality, it is important for parents to openly discuss sex, sexuality, and relationship decisions with their children as appropriate to each child’s level of understanding and to frame these discussions within their own beliefs and values. It is important that parents help their children acquire accurate information and form healthy values and attitudes about sexual behavior.
|Tips to Remember|
|1||Encourage good communication with your adolescent.|
|2||Be an active "listener".|
|3||Talk about sexual behavior, relationships, and your values with your teen.|