Tips to Communicate with Your Teens
By Guest Blogger, Elyssa Ackerman, LCSW and Parent Coach
Communicating with your teen can really test your patience. One minute your teen is asking you for money or permission to go to a happening hang with friends, the next minute they slam the door and say “Get out!” It is no wonder parents of teens find themselves commiserating, venting, or clenching their fists in frustration. However, as teens work at their job of trying to figure out their identity, the parent’s job is to parent with a plan in place and avoid reacting to their teen’s moods (or their own).
Teens are irrational, and, according to Dr. Mike Bradley, “Adolescents are temporarily brain damaged.” The parts of their brains currently in development and responsible for the emotional control, impulse restraint, and rational decision making aren’t fully formed and connected. What does this mean? Teens are confrontational. They are hormonal. They are stressed out managing their social, physical, emotional, and intellectual lives. Parents have to be the bigger people and act rationally. Parents need to stay calm, reduce daily battles, and let the teen wrestle with his/her feelings in front of a wise, calm adult. Do not hold grudges and be big enough to say “Sorry” when you lose it. When teens are rude, disrespectful, and nasty, practice saying “ I will not speak to you when you are disrespectful, come to me when we can talk civilly.” Sound like a big challenge? It is.Photo Credit: Tetra Pak via Compfight cc
The truth is that teens still need us to think the world of them. It is easy for us to highlight what teens do wrong, so try implementing two positives for every negative. Refrain from advice-giving and moralizing, and listen, REALLY LISTEN. Put down your phones, don’t text while they are talking to you, email can wait. Even if you disagree, let them talk. They need to vent. If given the space to do so, they will come to TRUST you. Ahhhh, trust, the magic word. Because in the end, as teens experiment with life and all that awaits, the choices they will make are impacted by their relationship with you. Heavy? You betcha. You are the most important role model for your teen. Educate them over and over again on sex, drugs, violence, and alcohol, and be honest and straightforward. Yes, pot dispensaries abound, but smoking weed at this time in their life couldn’t happen at a worse time, as their brains are on fire finishing the job of developing into the adults that they are craving to be.
Communicate with your teen by setting clear and consistent limits. Be matter of fact about his/her curfew, responsibilities in the home, and your drug and alcohol use (or no use) policy. Enforce limits through incentives, not ultimatums, and encourage them to act responsibly, and they will attain the freedom they so desire by demonstrating their willingness to do their part. Discipline without violence, try not to yell, and let them negotiate. Negotiating is a useful skill that they need practice while at home. If rules get broken, let them play a part in deciding upon the consequences. Short-term consequences work best.
Cut your teens and yourself some slack. Keep trying to reach them, invite them to dinner or a horror movie, or make them a cup of tea at night without asking anything in return. If they see that you are still there for them and are trying to maintain a connection, the payoffs are priceless. One day they will venture out on their own, succeed in their aspirations, and have the tools that they need to be successful adults (and maybe, eventually, parents).