Most parents are frustrated by the lack of communication with their teenage children. Parents want to know what their teen is thinking, feeling, and doing, but often get only silence or vague, empty answers.
It’s a common problem rooted in a teen’s need to be more independent. The teenage years are often a confusing time as teens strive to do more on their own while also finding themselves frightened by that growing independence.
From the parent side, things aren’t much simpler. We want our children to be strong, independent and capable of making decisions, but we don’t want them making the same mistakes we made, so we lecture them and try to control them and make decisions for them.
A first step in overcoming the communication gap is to accept that your teen is going to want to communicate more with his or her peers than with his or her parents. It’s only natural. Your teen’s peers are facing the same issues and problems, and sharing the same values and interests, as your teen.
You, the parent, however, are the “authority” figure, setting the rules, declaring what’s right or wrong and probably lecturing (a lot more than you really mean to) about everything.
So what can change? Start by accepting at least some of what your teen so readily accepts. Make your teen’s friends feel welcome at your house. Learn to tolerate their music, movies and TV shows. Make an effort to be interested. Realize that much of what your teen likes is chosen specifically to help develop a separate identity from yours.
It also helps to accept that your teen’s feelings and emotional reactions, irrational though they may seem, are very real to your teenager. Rather than immediately giving advice, validate what’s being felt by accepting his or her reaction and being understanding and supportive.
Lastly, try giving your teen more power. Don’t offer a decision when a problem arises, but rather ask what he or she might do. If no answers are offered, provide suggestions but leave the final decision up to your child. Yes, mistakes will be made, but that’s how we’ve all learned.
It will take time for your teen to see that you won’t lecture or provide answers to every situation, but once that realization sets in, and your teen sees that you value his or her developing identity, you just may find that communication becomes more open.
“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more about the counseling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.