Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening (Emma Thompson)
As a life coach, one of the opportunities I have is that of providing new communication tools for parents. New ways to try and connect with their teenager. I often start out with having parents unlearn some not so positive communication techniques. I will explain.
The first, you pick up your teenager from school, or your teenager walks in the door from school. If they get in the car, lock the doors, start driving slowly and que the spotlight and the interrogation, “How was school?” “Did you get your test back in English?” “How did your Math test go?” “Why wasn’t Carlo’s in class today, his mom called about some bullying, who is it?” “Why are you texting and not answering my questions?” “Who are you texting?” You haven’t answered one of my questions!”. The same is true if they walk in the door from school. Your teenager will want to run back outside and hide anywhere else. One of the not-so-wonderful aspects of the world of teenage parenting is that we are no longer privy to all the information we were given when our child was in first grade and shared everything, from who picks their nose, to who got in trouble for not eating their lunch, and if it was your child’s turn to be line leader. I do not know how much more detail you can hear of the trials and tribulations associated with such a difficult task. Your role as a parent is changing. To your teenager, you are still the most influential person in their life. However, your teenager is trying to gain independence from you because, despite all denial, that senior year of high school is fast-approaching, and the inevitable leap into the next phase of either college or work is looming and daunting in the reality your teenager.
The first communication tip I encourage parents to work on is to not ask a series of questions, non-stop, and expect a series of answers. I encourage parents to step back, let your teenager decompress from the day at school. A comparison is that as an adult when we come home from work, we want to reflect, have a moment before we jump into the next activity or conversation. The same is true for a teenager. If you are in the car, listen to some music. If they walk in the door, share a snack with your teenager. Silence is an amazing communication tool, and often opens up communication. I encourage parents to let their teenager have that time to catch their breath and enjoy being in the comfort of home and the security that provides to your teenager. Then ask one question and listen to the answer, do not listen to respond or to provide your parenting wisdom. The question may be, “Tell me about the best part of your day?” Listen to the answer and respond with another appropriate question, “Wow, that sounds exciting, how did that work out?”, “How did you feel about that?”, “You should be very proud of yourself for getting an A in your math test. I saw how hard you worked on learning the material.” All of these questions acknowledge that you were listening and that you want to know and understand what your teenager is going through. Parents comment to me that by doing this, the communication with their teenager has improved and they really have some great conversations. Communication is the relationship. By taking the time to stop, listen, and respond with the intent to understand, your teenager realizes that it is not about providing parenting wisdom and solutions but facilitating their critical thinking skills and helping them to develop into a young adult. This leads to the second tool.
It is so easy as a parent to listen to your teenager and provide the wisdom you think they need. Simply, your teenager does not want you to solve their problem, or tell them what a great life they are having in comparison to your own teenage years. I am guilty of sharing with my children that I walked uphill in snow, with no shoes and a pack of wolves chasing me to school, and yet here I am, so my solution is the one to be followed. As a parent one of our responsibilities is to encourage critical thinking with our teenager. Your teenager tells you about a poor grade, the instant solution is to provide study guidelines, a consequence, and share how it will be done. A far more powerful approach is, “How do you plan to correct your grade?”, “What did you learn from this experience?” Now you are communicating, creating trust and growing the relationship as you are a partner in the discussion, not a dictator of the way it will be done. In other situations, silence is once again a solution. When you teenager is sharing a situation or a concern, often the best thing a parent can do is to provide encouragement and watch the teenager find a solution. Provide encouragement by nodding, saying, “Tell me more” all of this encourages the critical thinking skills of your teenager, and, if needed, a cautionary question or other point of view can be shared.
It is always a great reward to know that the life coaching I get to do with parents is finds results. I enjoy the feedback that they are communicating better with their teenager and that the relationship is stronger. I tell parents that communication is the relationship. Every time you and your teenager engage in conversation you are communicating and building or breaking down the relationship. Communication that displays trust, empathy, warmth, and the desire to listen to understand will always grow the relationship. Communication is so important and should not be taken for granted. Everyone can improve their communication skills and apply more effective techniques to each communication interaction .
Covey, S. (1998). The 7 habits of highly effective families. New York, NY: Franklin Covey
Maggio, R. (2005). The art of talking to anyone. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Publishing.
Faber, A., Mazlish, M. (2012). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk. New York,