Tips to Connect, Communicate with Your Teen
Parenting a teenager is not always easy. The adolescent years come with many trying and perplexing physical, emotional and psychological changes and challenges. In addition, teens are often faced with making difficult decisions about school, relationships and social media, not to mention, drug use and sex. All of these decisions can have real life consequences. More than ever, teens need trusting adults to be there for them. They need caregivers willing to connect, communicate and spend time with them and show genuine interest.
Staying connected and having some of these conversations can be challenging. Teens are not always open to having these conversations or connecting with their trusted caregiver. Some days may feel like they would rather talk to anyone other than you. Take a deep breath and know you are not alone. There are ways to strengthen your efforts to engage, connect and communicate with them. Psychology Today and the Child Mind Institute provide some helpful tips on how to navigate this new chapter in your teen’s life:
Listen & Validate their Feelings
Teens are more likely to share information when they don’t feel pressured. Sometimes we worry so much about what to say and forget to just listen. Listening and reflecting on what you heard helps teens become aware of their own wisdom.
Don’t forget that communication is not always verbal. They share through their moods, choices and body language. Pay close attention to these nonverbal insights into their lives.
As caregivers, the tendency is to solve their problems or downplay their disappointment. Instead, try making statements such as, “wow, that sounds difficult.” This shows teens you understand and empathize with what they are going through.
Control Your Emotions & Take Breaks when Necessary
It is common for tempers to flare when your teen is acting rude or disrespectful. Remember to take a deep breath. It’s important to understand your agitated teen is less likely to think logically and regulate emotions when upset. Show them how to properly self-regulate by staying calm and leading by example. However, if during a conversation both of you are still upset, it is okay to take a break and resume the conversation later.
More difficult topics may also trigger some worry or anxiety which may cause you to overreact. Once again, try to remain calm. You are allowed to share your opinions and values. Keep in mind that responding with long, emotional lectures may shut down further dialogue.
Do Things Together – Share Meals Regularly
Make time to do something you both enjoy such as watching movies, doing outdoors activities or completing a home or school project together. Creating positive experiences with your teen leads to trust, which also fosters better communication. Teens often share more in a relaxed, fun environment.
Meals are also a great way to stay close and connected. Dinner conversations give every member of the family a chance to casually talk about their day and topics of interest such as sports, television or current events. Teens who feel comfortable talking to caregivers about everyday things are more likely to be open when difficult issues arise.
Show Trust and Give Praise
Although teens struggle to find their own identity and assert their independence, they want to be taken seriously – especially by their caregivers. Letting your teen know you have faith in them will boost their confidence and make them more likely to rise to the occasion. Look for ways to show you trust your teen. Ask them to be in charge of a task you know they can handle.
It is also important to give your teen praise (not just for major accomplishments) for their efforts and appropriate choices they make on a daily basis. Often, praise is given to younger children, but teens need the self-esteem boost just as much. Even when they act too cool, they still want their caregiver’s approval. Teens want to be seen and appreciated.
Don’t Avoid the Difficult Conversations
Conversations about sexual health, gender identity, relationships, drugs and alcohol, and other issues are essential. Don’t leave these conversations to the media, the internet or their peers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that when parents communicate openly and honestly with their teen about sex, relationships and the prevention of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, they help promote their teen’s health and reduce the chances of engaging in risky behaviors. Don’t wait to talk to them. Continue to have frequent conversations, remain open and relaxed, and avoid overreacting.