Raising a child doesn’t come with a book of instructions. If it did, the task would be much easier. Facing the teenage years with your son or daughter has its challenges as well as rewards. Take the experience one day at a time and learn how to bridge the communication gap.
As your child goes from toddler to youngster to tween to teenager, something in what you say gets lost in translation. They can give you that blank stare as if the words that are coming out of your mouth sound like the unseen teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons.
It’s not always easy to build communication bridges with a teen, but it’s important to try to get through as these years and the choices they make now will have a vital impact on their future.
Here are a few tips to help:
- Watch your body language. How you move says a lot about you. When a person is tired, they tend to slump. When angered, your jaw muscles tighten and your eyes narrow into slits. Believe it or not, teenagers are good at interpreting body language. Yours will betray you when you are talking to them. Keep it open and honest. Avoid sitting with your arms crossed, eyes looking away from them, or squirming in your seat.
- Make eye contact. When you don’t look at the person you are talking to, it says that you are either hiding something or you are not interested in what they have to say. Your teenager will shut down emotionally when they suspect that you are not “tuned in” to them. Sit comfortably and give your teen undivided attention with consistent eye contact. It lets them know that you care.
- Keep your emotions in check. Remember back to when you were a teenager. Some of the things you said to your parents were aimed at freaking them out. Teenagers will push your buttons if they can. Don’t go overboard and get upset. It’s a natural part of growing up to start testing boundaries. Instead, take a deep breath and don’t focus on things that don’t actually matter. Do the opposite of what they expect because really, they want you to see through their ploy and find out the real problem.
- Ask them about their day. This technique works with spouses also. Even if your teen only grunts or says the obligatory, “It was okay,” ask anyway. Your show of caring will go a long way to convince them that you are interested in the things that they do and how they feel.
- Be honest with them. If you don’t understand the situation they are talking about, then say so. Kids know when you are being insincere. Discuss the situation until you get an idea of where they are coming from. Your teen won’t mind explaining as long as they know you are listening.
- Allow them their privacy. This one is tricky, but since you know your child better than anyone else, you can draw the line. Teens value their time alone. While the policy in your home may be that there are no locks on the doors, always show respect by knocking before entering. If they don’t want to be pressed about a situation in school, wait until they are ready (if it’s not urgent) and then talk about it.
Parenting a teenager takes a tough skin, a willingness to be vulnerable, and lots of love. You will make mistakes, but whatever you do, don’t ever stop talking.