By McKenna Downing, MFT Intern
How to Communicate with Your Teenage Son or Daughter
Teenagers have a lot going on, both inside and out. Hormones are going wild, their bodies are changing, and they are surrounded by new roles and responsibilities in and out of the home. As a mom or dad, you must juggle many daily tasks, obligations, and stresses when parenting teens. These aspects of daily life can cause disconnection with loved ones, including your teen, and can create miscommunication quickly. So how do you connect with your teen without spiraling into a fight?
1. Talk With Them About Their Interests
By taking the time to talk about their interests, you build a bridge so that your son or daughter can feel more comfortable coming to you when they are struggling. General questions like “How was school?” are important, but they can be overwhelming for a teen having a rough day. Try to incorporate more specific questions. Pay attention to their interests. Are they really into gaming? Take the time to ask about their favorite game. Why do they like it? Maybe they can show you how to play it sometime? These questions are open-ended and typically require more than a one-word answer for your teen.
You may see some initial pushback. However, continuing to pay attention to their interests can make them feel like you care about them. Over time, you will notice they will begin to be the ones engaging you first in conversations. When framing these questions, pay attention to your tone and timing. The middle of an argument might not be the best time to address these questions. However, if you are constantly interested in them over time, your teen will begin to open up and engage with you.
2. Set Clear Expectations
Contrary to popular belief, having clear expectations and boundaries with your teens is essential, comforting, and is a building block for a healthy relationship.
Think about it. You probably don’t like feeling like unsure of what is expected of you. It can be unsettling. It is the same for your teen; not knowing limits can be highly stressful and cause conflict within the parent-child relationship.
Teens require more freedom than younger children. Your expectations and boundaries with them should be focused on health and safety. Let them know you care about them and the reasoning behind the expectations.
3. Follow Through on Your Promises
Consistency as a parent is critical. Of course, there are times when life can get in the way. However, as a rule, if you say you are going to do something, it is essential that you follow through. If your teen or child feels consistently let down by you, it can breed distrust. Everyone has had at least one inconsistent person in their lives. Now think about how that person could affect your life if they made all the critical decisions for you. It can be distressing.
As a whole, relationships require a certain level of trust. This is especially important when parenting teens because their relationship with you is practice for every other relationship they will have in the future. It’s a lot of pressure, and no one is perfect. However, putting effort into connecting with your teen consistently and doing what you say you will do will go a long way to creating a healthy relationship with them.
4. Have a Set Time to Connect
You will eventually find common ground as you talk with your teen about their interests. You’ll notice that you may enjoy the same things they do. When you find that activity, seize the moment and plan a day in which you and your teen can have at least one hour of quality one-on-one time. If this goes well, make this activity a weekly occurrence. That can seem daunting at first; however, if you are reading this article, you are trying to connect with your teen, and connection takes time and effort. In addition, this activity will be one that you both enjoy doing. You’ll find yourself excited about your set time together each week.
5. Learn Stress Reduction Skills
Stress reduction and coping skills you can use in the moment are very important when trying to connect with your teen. There are most likely going to be arguments. During those arguments, it is vital for you as the parent to self-regulate and use coping skills to keep you calm.
You may be saying that is easier said than done. However, suppose you model the behavior by staying calm and clear. In that case, your teen may still be mad, but your actions can prevent the fight from snowballing into a war. You can do several things within the moment to help you stay calm, including focusing on your breathing.
Belly breathing is proven to get your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and slow you down. In addition, validating statements such as “I can see you’re upset” or “I can see you are very frustrated right now” can help de-escalate the situation.
Suppose those do not work, and the argument is escalating. In that case, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I can see we are both upset. I need to take 15 minutes to calm down, and then we can come back and talk about this because I can see it’s important to you.” Clearly state the expectation, be concrete about how long the break will be and be consistent by going up to them and talking about the situation once that break has ended.
The Reward of Parenting Teens
Adolescence is a wonderful, complicated time. Most teens are extremely funny and engaging when given the opportunity to connect with others. Do not put pressure on yourself to be a perfect parent. Try and use these techniques and you’ll be in an excellent spot to create a healthy relationship with your teen. And if your child needs some additional support, don’t be afraid to explore therapy for your teen.