3 Ways To Kill Communication With Your Teenager: Part 1
It is the lament of many parents with teenage children, “They don’t talk to me. I don’t know what is going on.”
Teenagers drive their parents to despair as the steady stream of information about what has happening in their life slows to a discouraging trickle of grunts and whatever’s.
There are of course several reasons for this happening that parents have little control over. First of all teenagers need to create some space between themselves and their parents as part of developing their own adult identity. Secondly teenagers, particularly boys, often struggle to process and verbalise what is happening for them, so they are not that good at communicating with anyone, parents included. Thirdly there is just stuff no one wants to talk about with their parents – ever.
However despite these natural obstacles to parent teen communication there are other obstacles parents create themselves, often without knowing they are doing it. These obstacles prevent or discourage teenagers from trying to talk to their parents about anything.
In this post, and the two following, will explore the 3 most common ways parents sabotage their teenagers desire to communicate openly with them.
Failure to Validate
Even though this sounds like vague reference to parking tickets, validation is in fact a crucial skill for communication, and failing to validate your teenager will guarantee a communication black-hole.
Validation occurs when we acknowledge, accept, and nurture another person’s feelings, beliefs, or identity. It is an essential part of establishing open patterns of communication and building strong healthy relationships.
Parents fail to validate (invalidate) their teenagers when they ignore, reject, belittle or dismiss their teen’s feelings. Invalidation is at the core of most communication breakdowns, especially between parents and their kids.
Common Ways Parents Invalidate
Most parents want to provide support, comfort and encouragement to their kids. However we are not always sure how to do this and can easily slip into communicating modes that do the opposite of what we intend.
The most common way people invalidate one another’s feelings is by slipping into ‘fix it’ mode and start to offer advice and solutions. I am sure all of us can think of a time when we just wanted someone to listen and understand, but instead were treated as a problem to be solved – it doesn’t feel good.
When we offer advice instead of just listening, empathizing, and acknowledging what is happening, we not only fail to help teenagers feel understood and accepted, we slow down the process of them working through and finding solutions to their own problems.
Teenagers don’t want you to fix their problems, they just want to know that they are not freaks, they are still acceptable, and they are not alone with their problem. When parents are always responding with advice they send a message that says ‘I care more about you being fixed than I do about who you are and how you feel at this moment.’
If your teenager starts a questions with ‘How do I…’ or ‘What should I….’ then maybe some advice is what they are after. Every other time why not just listen and help your teen work through the issues and find their own solution. You might be surprised how quickly they work it out.
Deny The Significance of Situations
Parents, and adults in general, do this all the time. We think by telling a young person it isn’t that bad we are somehow helping them. Usually we are doing the complete opposite.
When a young person admits to being scared and an adult tells them ‘There is nothing to be scared of’ they instantly belittle and dismiss the young person’s feelings. Similarly when a young person is excited and rejoicing about a situation or achievement and parents say things like ‘I don’t know why your so excited it’s only…’ they instantly crush their teenager’s spirit making them less willing to disclose or share in the future.
As adults we have a perspective on many of the trials and joys of adolescence that differs greatly to that of teenagers. We know that broken hearts will heal, there is life after a bad exam, most embarrassing moments are forgotten in time, and life goes on. However to the teenager living it for the first time these things look big and their feelings respond to their perception.
Unfortunately parents think that the way to deal with the feelings is to change their teen’s perception, however it doesn’t work that way. To help teenagers see things more clearly you first have to acknowledge and help them process their feelings.
Label Feelings as Unacceptable
Parents label feelings when they say things like; ‘Stop being a cry baby, toughen up’ or ‘I don’t like it when you are angry.’ Whenever parents label feelings as being wrong or unacceptable, they fail their teenagers in two ways.
First when parents suggest certain feelings aren’t acceptable their teenager will feel they are not acceptable to their parents when they feel certain emotions. So in order avoid being rejected teenagers will hide their feelings from their parents, or sometimes avoid their parents altogether.
Secondly teenagers will feel ashamed or weak for having certain emotions and as a consequence will suppress them. When feelings aren’t acknowledged or expressed in a healthy way, they will build up and be expressed in unhelpful and often destructive ways.
Actions that are expressions of emotion can be inappropriate and should be dealt with. Hitting someone because you’re angry is an example of an unacceptable action. However it is the act of hitting that is inappropriate, the angry emotion may be a perfectly legitimate feeling in light of the situation.
Validating Your Teenager
Validation is a skill that can be learned. Being conscious of it is half the battle, the other half is learning how to respond to your teenagers emotions.
If your teeanger is sad, scared, or angry, let them tell you about why they are and show you appreciate why they feel the way they do. Offer comfort and understanding, but don’t jump to advice and solutions.
If your teenager is excited and happy then allow them to tell you all about it, ask for more information, and celebrate with them.
A simple outline to keep in mind is:
- Offer to listen
- Acknowledge their feelings
- Help them label their feelings
- Empathise with them
- Remain present – physically and emotionally
- Accept where they are at without judging or fixing them
- Communicate you are there for them
In the next post we will focus on how parents kill communication with their teenager by over-reacting.
Image by splorp