Knowing how to talk to teens is both a science and an art form. When your kids enter the teen years, it can be both mentally and physically draining, and even unsuspecting conversations can trigger a maelstrom of unintended emotionality (from both parties).
Dr. Miller and the team at Aspire Neuropsych in Walnut Creek, CA have put together these tips to help you survive adolescence (and survive your adolescent!). Knowing these secrets to communicating with teens will not assure that you will have perfect interactions every time, but they are important considerations to follow when entering uncharted territory with your teen. And for the moments when these tips are not enough, we offer therapy for teens and the whole family to help you find your way.
If you read no further in this blog, know this vital information. As your teen begins to see themselves differently (more capable, more independent), their response to you (and authority in general) will likely change. They will want more responsibility and more freedom and will demand to be treated with respect (even when you feel like you don’t get it in return). While you are a parent first, and not meant to be a friend who gives in to their every whim, mutual respect needs to be a vital theme in your developing relationship. Truly, it is the quality of the relationship you have with your teen that is one of the greatest protective factors both for their mental health, and for your shot at a relationship with them post move-out day. So when communicating with teens, consider how you want to be treated, begin to view your teen as you might another adult, and extend them the same courtesies.
The next best thing you can do when learning how to talk to teens is to check in with their emotional state on a regular basis. This might seem obvious, but knowing what’s stressing your teen out and is regularly on their minds can help determine the cause of that after-school meltdown or why they’re being extra forgetful lately. Staying in tune with their emotions and making yourself available to talk to them about their problems (minus the lecture) can be an important relationship booster. Beyond that, it can also help you to lead with empathy when communicating with teens. Beginning a request to clean up the living room with a leading statement that lets them know you see them in their struggle can make them all the more receptive to whatever it is you have to say.
This next tip is pretty specific, but is helpful nonetheless (mostly for your own sanity). How often do teens want to make a deal with you that they’ll do what you’ve asked, but after they do this other thing first? If your teen swears that they are going to do their homework, but wants to watch a few youtube videos first, know that you are being played. Unless your teen has the track record to prove it, don’t give them the opportunity to disappoint you. If you do fall into this trap, be sure to be clear about the consequences, and make sure you stick to them. This entire situation can actually be pretty harmful to your relationship, as it gives you a false sense of pride in your parenting, when in reality, you’re setting your teen (and yourself) up for failure.
This is important on two levels. First, this might be a good time to remind you that you are entering the final stage of parenting where your word is no longer law, and you are viewed as more of a “supportive advisor.” Your teen doesn’t need your advice, or need you to solve their problems, they need you to listen and to offer guidance (when asked) about what they’re going through. Unsolicited advice is no longer welcome in adolescence, and more than anything else, teens just need you to listen, validate their struggle, and empower them to find a solution.
After you’ve successfully bitten your tongue to keep from giving unwanted advice, your next task is to then do nothing as your teen attempts to sort out the problem on their own. No more “dad to the rescue,” it’s time for your teen to prove that they are capable of solving some of their problems on their own. This will build confidence and competence, and is actually what your teen needs right now.
While these tips offer a great starting point and a good reframr for how your relationship with your teen is evolving, there is so much nuance in your individual situation that begs attention. If you’d like to speak to a therapist about your teen, with your teen, or with the whole family, Dr. Miller and her team can help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.