Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Effective Communication with Adolescents
Adolescence is one of the most challenging phases of life. As parents, we want to help our children any way that we can. We want them to come to us with their problems so we can guide them, and comfort them when the going gets rough. In spite of our best intentions, our teenagers often don't seem to want our help. We watch them struggle with friends, school, their self-esteem . . . honestly, we often don't even know what the exact problem is, but we notice that Something Is Wrong! Not only is something wrong, but they don't come to us with what's bothering them, and they don't answer any of our questions. Do we just shrug and walk away? I suggest that you don't have to. There are ways to improve your communication with your teenager. You can help your teen through better communication. You can make the connection with your teen.
Teenagers feel awkward just about all of the time. Teenagers are experiencing enormous changes in their bodies and brains. Their task is to begin to differentiate from their parents, to connect with their peers, and discover their identities. All this with raging hormones and rapid changes in physical appearance. Remember how awkward you felt at this stage in your life?
In reading Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom, I am struck by Morrie's suggestion that growing older can be wonderful because as an older adult we have the experience of the age that we are, but also we contain the experience of every age we have already experienced. As parents, we have the experience of being a teenager once ourselves. It helps to remind yourself again and again what it was like for you as a teenager, and how you felt about the adults in your life. Take a moment now to imagine what struggles you faced as a teenager, how you felt about things, and how you viewed the world. I would also invite you to write about this time in a journal if you keep one.
We are often taught that the best sort of communication is direct communication. Be assertive. Talk about how you feel. Tell the truth. You might be surprised that I am going to ask you to bend these rules a bit when talking to your son or daughter. Teenagers want you to see them for who they are, but they don't want to feel judged. Direct communication is not always the best route when talking to your teen.
Remind yourself that even the most benign question can feel like a blazing spotlight on your teenager. Instead of being direct, try the fine art of indirectness. Ask about one of their friends problems, ask them to tell you the plot of a movie they have seen, or ask their opinion about something in the news. Test the waters. Be sensitive to how your teen responds. If you are getting a good response, do more of what you are doing.
If not, try to be even more indirect. Remember, you are still communicating, and being able to communicate is very important. You want your teen to trust you and to feel comfortable coming to you when times get rough. The sort of communication you have with your teen may not look the way you want it to a lot of the time, but trust that indirect communication is connecting!
You might ask your teen to draw a picture for you or to write you notes. This is what I mean by being even more indirect. Many teens love to draw and love to pass notes. Why not ask them to do these activities with you?
It may not always seem like it, but they need you now as they navigate the waters toward a healthy, balanced adulthood.
Seeking the assistance of a licensed psychotherapist can be the right decision for some people.
If you live in Sonoma County and are seeking a licensed psychotherapist, please call me at (707) 522-0485. I look forward to hearing from you.
©2009, Katherine Kirk, MA, MFT, MFC46475