The parent/teen relationship can be a challenging path to navigate. This week Orlando Child Therapist Jessica Conaway shares 5 ways you can improve communication and increase connection with your teenager.Jessica Conaway, MS
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Many Parents struggle to get through to their teenagers. They often describe their teens as being from another planet due to barriers in the communication and connection pathway. Your teen may be coming from a different perspective, and it’s my goal as a therapist to help you decipher and crack the communication barrier.
- Opening a listening Pathway: begin every interaction with a statement of understanding even if you don’t fully agree or understand. An example of this would be getting your teenager to do homework on a timely manner. You see that your teen has been spending time texting their friend, instead of completing their homework while their grades are already below average. Many parents approach the situation with anger or demanding immediate change of the situation. The assumption is that your teen is being willfully defiant and disrespecting your rules, however your teens perspective may be different. They are texting their friend because they got into a fight with them today and are desperately afraid of losing a friendship. Facing a middle school or high School hallway alone can be terrifying, and they are trying to navigate the complexities of relationship.
Instead: Try to start by saying, “I understand how difficult it is for you when you have a fight with one of your friends. I also know that you need to pass this test tomorrow. Schoolwork is your job and it’s your responsibility to do it to the best of your abilities. Let’s sit down and think of a good way you can manage your time tonight.” Be sure not to say “I understand, but…” which will simply disqualify what you’ve just said. Start from a place of understanding, and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes first before telling them what needs to change. I’ve found that doing this, teens tend to listen instead of feeling like they have to defend themselves against you.
- Remove anger– If you approach the situation in anger you may have invariantly added fuel to the fire. Realize that the choices your teen makes are not always the best but he/she is not bad. Your job is to help guide them to better choices so they can develop a better skill set. When you realize what your job is as a parent, it will help you be less emotional. Remind yourself that what they say and do is not a reflection on you. You may not like how he’s behaving or even how he’s thinking, but keep your emotions out of it, even if his behavior impacts you. I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do; it’s tough, but it’s a skill that can be learned.
- Don’t do anything until you’re both calm.Another rule of thumb is to avoid doing anything until you and your child have both calmed down. The fact is, you don’t have to respond to your child when you are upset, or when your child is upset and in your face. You just don’t. You can say nothing. You can take a few minutes or more if you need to. When emotions have evened out, you can sit down and talk with him. It’s never good to try to bring up a difficult subject or resolve a conflict in the heat of the moment.
- Ask questions to understand– Try to refrain from judgmental or critical statements. “Why can’t you get up on time? What’s wrong with you?” Instead ask questions to gain perspective, which will serve as a framework of guidance later. Do you have any ideas for how you could get up on time? Look beyond the behavior and try to determine what need your child is trying to get met. Behaviors are always an outcome and never the root cause. We all have reasons for choices we have made, explore yours, and view your teen through a lens of compassion and understanding.
- Solutions and collaborations- Provide your teen with the opportunity to come up with their own solution while exploring what will work and what will be problematic about each decision? What would be the natural consequences of each choice and how would they feel about dealing with that? If they are not able to come up with solutions provide them with suggestions and explore the best fit for them. While you want the message to be “I am confident in your ability to work it out,” we also don’t want them to feel alone in their struggles. Balance is the key here.
Final Note: when you and your child are not caught in a power struggle, it frees up that energy to be allocated to other positive things. And your child will be less defiant because they will have no one to resist. When you’re not trying to control them and you’re not reacting to them, they will have to wrestle with themselves rather than with you.
I (Jessica Conaway) along with Amy Smith and Juliana Ochoa work as child therapists at Orlando Life Skills Resource Group and would be happy to help you decipher the code and navigate the pathway of communication with your teen. Please call our office for a free phone consultation at 407-355-7378 or reach out by email firstname.lastname@example.org.