Communicating with your teen can be fraught with danger until you learn to speak teen language.
It is the type of language all parents need to understand to allow good, open and informative discussion with their teenage child. Learning to speak teen is similar to learning to speak English, Spanish or Chinese, it needs to be learned.
How do you speak teen?
The main thing to remember is a ten is neither a child nor an adult. Their brain is developed only 50 – 60% at best, therefore, they still have limited ability to process as an adult brain does. Teens hate being told anything, nor do they enjoy being told what to do. This is escalated if parents are doing what they prohibit their child doing such as too much social media use or gaming. Parents need to set a good example of modelling appropriate behaviours. Not only do teens but also the walls have ears and eyes, so trying to hide your behaviour from your teen is filled with problems.
Teens need their space while at the same time they need their parent’s guidance, love, acceptance and respect. They want to be trusted and supported at the same time. They also need to develop independence while having protection and boundaries. It all sounds complex and difficult yet it can be easier once you understand what it is they really need. No, they won’t tell you this of course and why not? Because you the parent supposed to know all of this, remember your mind reading hat – where has it gone?
I usually recommend a family meeting when we talk to our teens.
We use to have more family meeting compared to what we do now. While many families say they are too busy, kids are too involved in their phones, these are excuses, not reasons. Family meetings are important for a few reasons and I encourage all families to restart or commence having them on a regular basis or as needed. The reasons family meetings are advantageous include:
• Safety in numbers
• Avoid the teen feeling isolated or compromised
• Both parents can hear their child’s responses, so no repetition is required
• Similar rules or boundaries will affect all kids, not just the teen
When it comes to wanting your teen to do something, such as undertake a job, adjust social media and gaming use or to discuss any issue, it is important to learn to speak teen. Teens hate being told what to do. I advise parents to suggest a couple of different options, so the teen can select the one best suitable for them. Either way, the teen should select one of your options and when they make this selection they own it, it becomes their choice. This also validates them, gives them a voice and allows them to practice for their independent life ahead.
The teens I have had bought into my Counselling room due to them not following the rules, not speaking to parents, not conforming to requirements; all say something similar. They actually love their parents and respect their rules. However, they tell me they will buck the system because they can and wait to see the reaction, which most of them find humorous. They tell me they want the parent to set boundaries about phone and internet use plus their social interaction boundaries because they feel they need it. They do not want it but they seem smart enough to recognise they need it. Leaving their phones out of their room from 9pm to charge, a night or two away from their phone, devices or games is acceptable for them. The only issue I continue to hear from the teens, believe it or not, is parents give up or give in. The teens prefer it if the parents stick to their rules and not give in. I know how odd this sounds but this is repeated from boys and girls from 12 – 17 years. Weird huh?
We do need to listen to our teens and ask them open-ended questions rather than closed questions that require only a yes or no response.
Open-ended questions require lengthier responses than closed-ended questions.
Closed Questions to avoid include:
Open-ended questions start with:
They require more information and can start a conversation.
Following are the tips to allow you to open up your communication to speak teen. Be there for your teen; to guide, suggest (never tell) and allow them to grow into the amazing independent young adult they are destined to become.
Tips to Talk Teen
1. Talk with them, never lecture or demand. We must speak with them, not to them as this makes them shut down. They also love it when you get to the point quickly, not ramble on.
2. Use open-ended questions – use the words mentioned above during your conversation to open it up and encourage them to use more than yes or no to your questions or conversation.
3. Ask what they think – when speaking, ask them what they think of what you said. This can make them feel their voice and opinion is valued.
4. Listen to their responses – Regardless of what they say thank them for the input. If their comments are wrong, we don’t say that, we thank them for their interesting opinion and ask the reason they have that opinion (today anyway).
5. Always agree with what they feel – whatever they feel is correct, for them at that time. Our feelings are a very personal emotion and no one has the right to tell us to feel differently. The question here is ‘what is the reason you feel this way’?
6. Validate their feelings, even if you don’t agree – whenever your teen voices their feelings, agree that is what they feel before venturing into the reasons for the current feelings. This is when you have an opportunity to reframe their emotions or ask what may be done to enable them to feel better.
7. Don’t react, if they become animated, thank them for speaking and suggest you continue later. Not reacting is a skill to learn. While you may be seathing or upset, remaining monotone and calm will assisit to manage the situation and demonstrate to your teen that self control is possible.
You were a teen once, you survived as did your parents. There is so much pressure on our teens now, more than ever before and pressure you likely never felt. Parents placing more pressure for good marks at school, or better decision-making, places so much extra pressure onto them. Teens never want to disappoint their parents and if they feel they have, or continually do, they can respond by acting out. Be patient, be kind and love them regardless.
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