Encouraging Communication between parents and teenagers

Most misunderstandings are usually because of poor communication. Communicating well between family members leads to less arguments which results in increased cooperation and stronger connection among parents and teenagers. To do this, it is important to invest time in building these relationships by spending time together, having conversations, listening to one another and being interested in their interests. As children begin to grow up and become teenagers, they start to develop their own sense of self and have their own ideas and beliefs. This can cause disagreements if these new ideas are very different to their parents and this can be difficult for parents to respond to.

Children and teenagers like to test boundaries, although it’s a bit easier to influence small children to follow the rules, it is a lot harder to do this with adolescents. This is because teenagers are less likely to follow rules when they are not part of making or agreeing to the rules. As much as a parent wants to tell a teenager to do what they say or ask with no room for negotiation, this is unlikely to happen even if a parent thinks it does. Teenagers will most likely begin to lie or hold back the full truth because they believe their parent won’t understand nor see things from their perspective, despite parents trying to do the right thing by their children. In order for teenagers to follow rules, communication is key. For this to happen, teenagers need to be part of the decision making. They need to feel heard, understood and their feelings considered and as part of this, the parent needs to be heard, understood and their feelings taken into account as well.

Whenever there are disagreements on anything between parents and teenagers. It is best to make time to have a conversation when everyone is calm. When everyone is calm, everyone can hear each other. Start with picking a good time, no distractions and when everyone is calm, ask the teenager to give their point of view without interruption no matter what is said. When finished, the parent can repeat what they have heard back to them to show the teenager have been listened to. Then, the parent has their say on what the issue is. Teenagers need to listen and not interrupt when the parent is speaking, also. For this communication to work well, everyone must be clear from the beginning that they must speak respectfully and one at a time. If anyone raises their voice, remind each other that the conversation can only continue if everyone speaks calmly to each other. If everyone cannot speak calmly then maybe it is best to postpone until everyone is calmer. If the conversation continues as an argument it is unlikely anything will be resolved.

Once both parent and teenager have heard each other’s points of view, then it is time to come up with solutions. Let the teenager come up with them first without interruptions, followed by parent’s solutions and then try to reach an agreement. The key is to listen to each other’s view, see where the other is coming from and then try and figure out what works for both of you.

Most disagreements can be resolved by having a calm discussion. Everyone wants to be heard and feel understood. It may take practice and perhaps learning how to be calm first. This is also teaching your teenager how to problem solve and deal with situations they dislike in a positive way. Once both have met in the middle and made an agreement, it is important to arrange a follow up conversation after a few days to see how the agreement is working for everyone. When making the agreement make sure a consequence is agreed in case the agreement is broken. Ask the teenager for their input on what the consequence should be. This way your teenager is making an informed choice if they decide not to follow the rules you both set together. They will know the consequence of their decision. Follow through on the consequence and discuss calmly why this has happened and try to make a new agreement.

This may be difficult to get started with but keep communicating together calmly at all times and if that is challenging, then end the conversation until there is calm again.

Top tips for Encouraging Communication.

Set time aside

Setting aside time every day to chat with your teenager without distractions will make a massive difference to your relationship. Asking “how was your day?” “How did the Maths test go?” or “the big match is on tonight, how do you think it will go?” shows your teen you are interested in them, their hobbies and their opinion is important to you. Remember it doesn’t have to be long- 10 minutes a day can make a big difference.

Have fun together

Make time to do fun activities together, whether it is a walk in the local park, watching TV series or sports, at home pamper sessions or cooking new recipes. It doesn’t have to be costly. Getting along with your teenager and having fun can improve relationship and reduce arguments.

Actively Listen

To truly listen to someone it is important to avoid interrupting. This can be difficult when the topic of conversation is something you might disagree with. However, it is important to listen and hear what your teenager has to say, no matter what. This shows them how a two way conversation plays out when both parties disagree. Parents of teenagers will often hear the phrase “You don’t understand me” or “You never listen to me”. Actively listening responds to this because you can begin to truly understand your teenagers point of view when there is no interruption on the parents part.

Stay calm

In order to actively listen well, staying calm is required. No matter what has happened or how much you disagree. The problem will not be solved if there is an argument. Keep a ‘talking’ tone of voice at all times while you both discuss the situation. It is important that your teenager keeps a ‘talking’ tone to their voice, too. If voices are raised and not going back to a respectful talking tone, then the conversation must be postponed until there is calm again. This is ok. Next time insist on respectful talking voices at all times.

Problem solve

To figure out a solution to a problem, hear each other’s opinion on the matter first, then come up with ideas to solve it starting with your teenager. Next the parent can give their solutions then move on to choosing the best one you can both agree on.

Follow up

Always have follow up conversations on what has been agreed to make sure everyone is happy and doing what is agreed. Talking to and taking an interest in their world when things are going well provides a solid basis for solving issues during the tough times.

This article was contributed by Jillian Gillick, Family Support Worker with Respond, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.