Communicating with your teenager can be a challenge. At this point in your kid’s life, you are no longer center stage. Their peer groups get to spend time with the charming child you once knew, while you get the leftovers. The first step to engaging your teen is understanding their communication techniques. Let’s start with some light-hearted but accurate assessment of how teens communicate with their parents.
How Teens Communicate
- The sigh: Usually preceded by a question from a parent, such as “Have you done your laundry?” or “How was school?” The sigh means “Why do you have to try and control my life?” or “Why do you bother me with such mundane questions?”. A sigh, when done by a quiet teen in the room, can also mean “I have something I want to talk about but I’m not going to tell you what it is but you need to figure it out.”
- Inaudible grunts: These are often heard from the male teen who has something to say to his parents or other adults, but we’re not sure exactly what it is. I have a brother eleven years my junior, an adult son and a teenage son, and I still have no idea what teenage boys are saying most of the time.
- Eye rolling: This is the response to many parental stories, jokes or attempts at being cool. In a nutshell, it means “You are so lame.” but it can be partnered with “Why are you embarrassing me?”.
- Foot stomping and door slamming: We all remember this from the toddler days, and it comes back for round two in the tween years, often running into the teens. It means “I hate whatever you have just said to me and that I have limited control over my own life.” If you have been subjected to the double door slam, as my husband has, that can be interpreted as “You didn’t get just how annoyed I am with the first slam, so I did it again.”.
- Hugs you didn’t beg for, accompanied with “Mommy” or “Daddy”: They want something. Proceed with caution.
- Excitedly sharing something that happened in their day: They have briefly forgotten how annoying and embarrassing you are. Embrace it. Stop whatever you are doing and enjoy being included.
While everything I listed above is true, there is obviously so much more to communicating with your teenager. As they navigate these years, they will continually shift back and forth between childish and mature. That is okay, and it is perfectly normal. As a parent, it is your job to be their safe space, their sounding board and their gentle guidance into making positive choices. Here are some things to keep in mind when living with a teenager…
- They don’t have to agree with you. You teen may have different opinions than you about important subjects like politics and religion. It stings, I know, but it is also okay. They are individuals who are entitled to their own views. Arguing or challenging their views will only fuel their passion. If it is really important to you that they understand your stance, communicate in a respectful and non-confrontational way, and allow them the same opportunity.
- A highly charged teen is not one who can learn a lesson. If your child is stomping her feet, slamming doors, crying or screaming, stick to hugs, suggesting some quiet time alone to calm down or letting them get it out. Attempting to talk during these outbursts is futile. I like to give them a time frame that I will return to have a conversation.
- Their worries and problems are significant, even if we know they will only matter in the short-term. Listen to them, let them vent and only offer solutions if asked. Your child needs to know that you can listen without interfering.
Open the Door to Communication
Sometimes your teen just needs an opening for a conversation. The most important factor for communicating with your teenager is understanding what excites them. Hone in on their interests by getting involved and letting them teach you about it. Here are some ways to improve communication with your teenager:
- Get to know their friends, and their friends’ parents. Building your own relationships with their extended families is a great way to stay in the loop.
- Take them out shopping, or for dinner on a one on one basis, and let them lead the conversation.
- Take a trip. Although not alway feasible, a one on one trip allows you to make memories and get to know your teen in a new way.
- Go for a drive, without the headphones. These are opportune moments for conversation.
- Watch their favourite television shows or movies with them.
- Listen to their music or go to a concert with them.
- Read books that they have read.
- Ask them to help you cook or bake their favourite dishes.
- Share their own baby or toddler stories with them.
- Attend their games/concerts/plays/etc.
- Write letters or notes telling them what you love about them and how proud you are of them.
- Help them out when you can see they need it eg. if they have to study for a test, take over their chores.
However you make it happen, communication with your teenager is vital through these confusing years (for them and you!). Just like every stage in parenting, this one only lasts a few years and then you will have a new best friend for life.