When Communicating with Teens, Less is More

There are a few changes parents typically expect as their youngsters grow into adolescence. Most parents know to expect a good portion of brooding, irritability and social drama. They expect their children’s bodies to change and their sexuality to become more pronounced. Parents know that kids will rebel and talk back, and that they are likely to experiment with things you wish they wouldn’t.

What parents may not expect is the pain and alienation they are likely to feel when their teens practice “selective” listening or stop listening altogether. The labor-intensive years of parenting a young child are over, and it’s a sure bet that your teen has expanded his or her verbal and reasoning skills. It only makes sense to hope that your teen will want to engage in meaningful conversations with you, the parent. As one parent put it, “I always thought that this would be the time when I’d get to share my wisdom and life experiences. Seems like all I share is my pocketbook and some curt text messages.”

This is no doubt frustrating for many parents. They have a hard time understanding why their teen doesn’t seek their advice, why their life lessons aren’t relevant, and why their teen would rather listen to a peer than someone who’s “been there.” What’s a caring parent to do? It’s important, first, to consider what NOT to do. Don’t lecture; don’t preach; don’t give unsolicited advice and try not to talk down to your teen. When communicating with teens, less is more.

Less is more in conflict. Have you ever found yourself going round and round in endless debate with your teen? At the beginning of the conversation, you felt confident in your decision to set a limit. Your teen requests an explanation, which you provide. That explanation is challenged, as is your next counterpoint, and before you know it, your resolve whittles away until you relent or shut the conversation down, exasperated. This is a sign that the conversation went on too long.

Less is more in support. You want your child to succeed. You want her to bypass all of your mistakes. You’ve been through it and could save her so much pain, humiliation, failure and disappointment. You know best, but she’s not interested in your advice. As kids develop, they begin to assert their personal philosophies, which, at first, are painfully naïve; just one bad idea after another (maybe you remember some of your own?). During these times, the relationship you foster with your child is more important than any advice you could give. In time, the relationship will bring her back to the life that you modeled.

If you’re already familiar with our blog, you know that we pay close attention to the diversity of learning styles and how they can impact our relationships. For many, talk – in and of itself – is not a particularly useful learning tool. Problems can be solved through means other than communication, and for teens that don’t tend to process verbally, you are likely to encounter shut-down in the presence of excessive talk. For others, talk is at the heart of problem-solving and serves as the primary tool for thought and expression. For teens that are more verbal, excessive talk is gives opportunity to chip away at your authority as you are questioned, challenged and cross-examined. After a point, everything you say becomes grist for the mill.

Less talk. Less explanation. Less preaching. It’s easier said than done. In my work with parents, the most frequent cause of excessive talk is a desire to reach consensus. Recent generations of parents espouse open communication as a cornerstone of parenting. They have decided to listen to their children; to give them airtime. These ideals are a step in the right direction, but along the way it’s tempting to strive for perfect consensus with teens. This can cause gridlock and compromise your authority. You think “if I could just bring them to my point of view, they will understand the ‘why’ of it all.” It’s more likely that they won’t come to your point of view, either because they’re still too young to comprehend it or because it simply isn’t convenient for them. Sometimes the adult’s role is to set the boundaries and tolerate their teen’s differences and negative feelings.

There are lots of ways to reduce excessive talk, but the first step is acceptance. You must accept in your heart and mind that your kids won’t always agree with your logic, accept that they aren’t always willing receivers of your wisdom, accept their naivety as a step in the direction of learning and accept the mistakes that will inevitably follow.

If you find that this post strikes a chord with your experiences and inspires you to make some changes, I would recommend that you do so cautiously and slowly. Begin a process of self-monitoring and reflection wherein you might better identify what your kids are triggering in you. How, specifically, to talk less may emerge from that reflection and guide you to a more meaningful relationship with your teens. As always, I hope you share some of your own stories and insights here in the comment section.

Image Credit: Scott Gelber

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s