In talking with the mom of a teenage girl, I was reminded of the importance of two things in the relationship between parent and teenager: the language that you use and the practice of turning agenda-driven discussions into open conversations. Here are some simple things to keep in mind to create peace in your home and to stay connected as your teen traverses these turbulent years. These ideas are actually great for staying connecting with anyone!
Listen then listen some more.
Someone once said to me that the most important shift in communicating with a teen is to listen, listen, listen and then listen some more. As my daughter went through her teen years, I found this to be so true. I learned to listen instead of speaking, and that was not an easy task! I listened instead of giving guidance unless requested and instead of doing something, again, not an easy task! The key to listening is getting curious. As Pam Dunn of Your Infinite Life Training & Coaching Company said, “Listening is so much more than simply observing or getting yourself out of the way when talking to someone else. It is being curious about what they are saying even if you disagree with them. It is allowing yourself to be surprised and learning something you might not have known before.” Practice being curious!
Put things on the table.
When speaking with your teen, put things on the table. If you think your son has been less than truthful with you, let him know what you know to be true rather than attempting to catch him in a lie. If he said he was at a friend’s house and you know that he wasn’t, avoid saying, “How was your visit with your friend?” Instead, say, “I spoke with Mark’s mother today, and I know that you were not there. Let’s talk about what happened.” If you don’t think your daughter has completed her science project, avoid skirting the issue with questions that will probably imply mistrust. Instead, use an I-statement to dispel her defensiveness and to voice your feelings. For example, “I feel uncomfortable because your science project is due next Friday and I haven’t seen you working on it. How is it going, and can I help in any way?” Practice putting things on the table with detachment.
Use the word “and” rather than “but”.
Use “and” as your conjunction rather than “but.” When you say to your teen, “I love you, but I am not willing for you to spend the night at Julie’s house”, she will not hear the “I love you.” People tend to ignore the words that come before the “but”. Simply rephrasing the statement by substituting “and” for “but” will keep the “I love you” in the conversation and in her heart.
Have big issue conversations.
Some big issues for parents of teens and for teens themselves are school success, love relationships, drugs and alcohol, and relationships with friends. By having conversations about these big ticket items, you keep the door open for connected communication. As you let go during the teen years, you can embrace being your child’s ally. The one item that distinguishes a conversation from a lecture is an agenda. If you are promoting your agenda rather than seeking understanding, it is a lecture. A conversation means that both you and your teen have a space to voice feelings and desires. What do you want? What does she want? What are your boundaries and limits? What are hers? The more “conversational” the discussion, the more empowered and invested your teen will be. The more of an ally you will be. The more connected you both will be.
If ever you are in doubt in communicating with your teen or with anyone, simply listen first. Each of these four ideas is a practice. Choose one to practice for a day or a week and see the difference it will make!