Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for Talking with Teens

It's kind of a funny microcosm of life, this struggle many adults experience when it comes to talking with their children. At one point every adult was a teenager, yet somewhere along the road to maturity they somehow forget what its like to be a kid. I've seen and heard both sides of the communication coin: kids who would "never!" talk to their parents and kids who talk freely with their parents about everything. The common thread is this, whether they recognize and admit it or not, teens crave open communication with their parents.

So, what's the problem then? If teens want to talk, why do they grumble and shrug and avoid all contact? The simple answer is not an easy one to swallow, but here it is: PARENTS BUILD WALLS.

Now, take a deep breath and don't get all defensive. You probably didn't even realize you were building, but over the course of years, brick by little brick has been stacked. You swore you'd never be like your parents. You promised yourself you'd be the "cool" ones. Yet, somewhere you lost hold on that precious little baby and before you knew it he/she was almost grown. The time went so fast and now you're staring in the face - eye to eye in some cases - a child who is no longer a child... a young, independent teen that seems to want nothing to do with you. But, it's not too late. You don't simply have to cower in the corner and wait out the storm. Just because you built that wall, brick by brick, doesn't mean you can't knock it down. It's never too late to establish a pattern of effective communication with your teens.

5 little tips to help break down the parent/teen communication barrier: 
(These apply equally to all youth that cross your path, not just those who share your blood-line.)  

1. Talk to kids like they are people, um, because they are! And, not only are they people, they are intelligent, thinking individuals, with thoughts and worries just like you. KIDS ARE SMART - don't dehumanize them by talking to them like they are idiots. Don't pretend to be their intellectual superiors. There's nothing that will open communication quicker than leveling the playing field. This doesn't negate the need for respect, just remember, it goes both ways.

2. Talk to your kids every day, not just when an issue arises. And, not just about "important" stuff. Laugh and joke and have a good time with each other. Think about it for a minute: you would never want to share your important thoughts with a stranger, would you? Well, then why would your kids? Create an atmosphere of familiarity and comfort, and if or when a big issue arises, your kids will feel comfortable coming to you because THEY KNOW YOU!

3. Listen. Respect. The counterpart to talking is listening. And, honestly, these two activities don't always equally balance the scale. Human nature - or at least "parent nature" - is to get the last word. This isn't necessarily the best approach. We don't have to fix everything, and as a matter of fact, we shouldn't. Sometimes the job of a parent is to simply LISTEN. Don't try to correct the action or solve the problem, just listen. Often the mere verbalizing of a concern and the opportunity to think through it out loud allows kids the ability to see the magnitude of their situation and recognize solutions on their own. When we listen and offer only needful, appropriate advice, we allow our children to (1) feel accepted and (2) to learn how to find solutions on their own.We also allow room for natural consequences to play out.

4. Be slow to judge or condemn. Remember, you were a kid once too, and likely, stupidity blurred your path at least once. If you lead a kid to believe that they are a bad person or at least incapable of making good decisions, you've set the stage for them to throw in the towel and prove you right! Avoid phrases like, "Well that was dumb," or "Wow, you're stupid." Instead use constructive conversation and thought provoking questions like, "What do you think of that decision?", or "How did that make you feel?" or even, "Knowing what you know now, do you recognize where you went wrong? And, the next time something like this comes up, what can you do to ensure a more positive outcome?"  

5. Be Comfortable talking about the difficult stuff. Seriously, if you can't talk about dating or drugs or sex without blushing, you are going to make them uncomfortable and they will take their questions and concerns somewhere else. It's a simple, but honest truth. They are seeing and hearing about these things all around them anyway, so don't think you're going to tell them something they haven't already heard somewhere else. Be the voice of honesty and the provider of accurate information. Don't shy away or beat around the bush. Sweeping taboo subjects under the rug doesn't make them go away, it only hides them. Your kids will not only appreciate your honesty, they will see you as a safe and comfortable resource for important information.

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