The Art of Healthy Communication: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Teen

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It is not uncommon to have a hard time having healthy communication with your teen. Many parents struggle to know what their teen is thinking let alone how they want to be talked to. Fortunately, there are strategies to get them to open up more to you and leave a conversation with contentment instead of resentment. 

Offering Choice

Developmentally, teens often feel that they have little power and therefore search for it in any way they can get their hands on. While this is justifiable as earning a driver’s license and voting come with age requirements, it is important to maximize the autonomy they perceive having to prevent power struggles within familial relationships. It is commonly recommended for parents of young kiddos to promote decision-making by offering select choices such as what they want to wear that day or what park they go to. Similarly, offering your teen the choice of when to have a conversation that you’ve been pursuing gives them an opportunity to check in with themselves and decide when they are in an optimal mood. No one likes having conversations that may result in a task when they are tired or generally in a bad mood. That sets the conversation up to be unproductive and only contributes to that drained feeling. Additionally, preemptively informing your teen on what you want to talk to them about allows them to mentally prepare for what they are likely to say regarding the topic. Dr. Steve Silvestro furthers this point when encouraging parents to ask their child on a scale of 1-10 with 1 meaning I’m not ready to do that yet to 10 being I’m ready to do that now, where do you fall and why are you not at a lower number? Again, placing the child in a reflective position which promotes autonomy. 

Come and Stay Free of Judgement

Furthering the points of mood monitoring and autonomy, hearing your child out with little interference and instead intentional listening is a difficult yet optimal strategy when approaching a discussion with your teen. Just as you know a lot about your child, they know a lot about you as well as their primary lifelong caretaker. Therefore, they can perceive your likely opinion or response. This impacts how much they share with you, feeling how much room they have in the conversation. Your child will share more with you when they feel they can do so with space and without judgment. Allowing your child to be heard builds their comfort in you. Growing their trust in you as a safe person also looks like not openly sharing all of the information the child gives you. A way to implement this is by asking your child what they are okay with people knowing or who they don’t want told. This again promotes their choice and say over their words and relationships, which ultimately do involve you.

Finding the Why

A hard truth is that your kid is growing up and will one day be more of an adult than a child. Asking yourself what you hope that adult is like can help drive this next tool of encouraging your child to reflect on what they need to do without you doing so for them. Guiding your teen to the answer looks different than persuading them. Dr. Silvestro stresses the difference in wording between wanting to do something and how ready they are to do something. It is not uncommon for teens to struggle with motivation at times. However, we all have to do things we don’t want to do but need to do. Therefore, avoiding the want means it is not the center of the conversation which would likely lead to little movement. Again, prompting your teen to reflect increases their self-understanding. It is most helpful to improve the problem when you understand the problem. If the teen does not pause to check in internally, they may act without much thinking, especially with that developing frontal lobe. Another hard truth is that your child is going to learn valuable lessons from making mistakes. Having a trusting relationship with your teen that you will be there for them and they can go to you increases the chances of those mistakes occurring on a smaller scale. Through struggle, we learn perseverance and bond with those that help us see it through. If you want to be involved in the decisions your child makes, they have to feel comfortable inviting you in. 

To conclude, bonding with your teen looks like getting to know the person they are presently and accepting that. Many parents want a better relationship with their developing teenager but don’t know how to get through to them. This is why holding space and giving them power to decide based on their internal state satisfy what both you and your teenager are seeking. For more information on Dr, Steve Silvestro, see this link.


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