by Marsha Finkelstein
As parents you want the best for your kids… the best schools, the best friends, the best opportunities. But, parents often forget what’s in the middle of all that effort – a young person trying to figure out who they are, how they’re going to fit in and what choices they should make.
The good news is that as a parent you’re the key player in guiding your child towards success. The more difficult news is that there are often obstacles along the way and they usually occur during the tween and teen years. This is the time to prepare yourself for parenting a drastically changing person. What might come across as attitude or rebelliousness might actually be a reaction to a parenting style that is often more effective with much younger children. Many experts in the field of youth development, including Dr. Richard Lerner, author of “The Good Teen”, Barbara McRae, author of “Coach Your Teen to Success” and Diana Haskins, author of “Parent as Coach” agree that a positive and more engaged approach is most effective when parenting teens.
The old adage “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do” is a perfect reminder of the importance of both spoken and unspoken communication. Today’s teens juggle endless priorities AND distractions – sports, academics, cell phones, instant messaging, texting, email, internet, social networking, etc. It’s now, more than ever, a necessity for parents to master the ins and outs of communicating with their “plugged in” child.
When it comes to effective communication, paying attention both to what your child tells you and what they “say” in their body language is imperative. If, for example, you’re having dinner with your son or daughter and they have their arms crossed and eyes averted, they’re telling you they don’t want to talk and need time to themselves. Paying closer attention allows parents to more successfully read their teen’s emotional state. Your teen won’t be aware you’re doing this, and I promise I won’t tell.
At the same time, make your communication clear and to the point. Given that many teens won’t listen for long, this will save tons of time and energy. You may need to repeat the message in different ways to get the point across, as your child’s brain may not have developed enough to process what you feel like you keep saying over and over. Knowing this gives you a break from wondering why they don’t seem to listen.
Current research on teen brain development supports what parents have experienced for years. The good news is that the more you can educate yourself about your teen’s brain development and functioning, the easier it’ll be to deal with the typical responses (emotional outbursts, risky behaviors, poor judgment around decision-making, etc.) that come with raising a teen.
So, take some time and practice being an effective communicator. Here are some tips:
- Active Listening – Don’t interrupt – be open to what they have to say, and reflect back to your child what you heard.
- Get to the Point – You may only have 30 seconds to get your point across so use your time wisely, because your teen may not be interested in a long speech.
- Body Language – Pay attention to your body language and keep it open. Arms down, relax your face and body. If you have tension, take a deep breathe.
- Use Technology – Find ways to use your teen’s communication style. Texting and instant messaging can be a great way to stay in touch.
- Communicate Like a Coach (a life coach that is…) – use opened ended questions/statements like “Tell me more about…”, “What was that like?”, “How did that make you feel?”, etc. You’ll be delighted at the responses you get.
- Ask their Opinion – this tells your teen you care about what they think and their opinion has value. And, what teen doesn’t want to feel valued.
- Hold off on Quick Fixes – If your teen’s upset about something, don’t try to fix the problem before you know more. They may not want to talk about it or might need time to sort things out. What you can do is say something like “You seem upset. If you need me, I’m in the other room watching TV.” That tells them your concerned, but also lets them know you aren’t intruding. Chances are, if it’s serious, they’re likely to come back later and talk to you about it.
So now that you have some tips to try out, and you know you’re not crazy, but your child’s behavior is, at least to some degree, on a physiological level, you can take a moment to breathe a sign of relief. And, perhaps find a way to have more fun with your teen? Hey, anything’s possible, right?
About the Author
Marsha Finkelstein is a parent educator, life coach, writer and founder of Moving Beyond Coaching, a company whose mission is to help families support children so that they can grow into successful, happy and healthy adults. For more information, visit the website at www.movingbeyondcoaching.com.