Author: Veronica Lichtenstein, LMHC
Apr 13, 2023
Let’s face it, as much as we would all like to be our teens’ “ride or die,” the reality is that will probably not be the case….at least not in their formative years. We need to remind ourselves that it is our teen’s job to discover who they are and how they fit into the world. That is accomplished by moving away from their parents and trying things out on their own. They may sometimes be secretive and moody- all part of normal development.
However, because they’ve only been around for less than two decades, our teens do not have the wisdom and introspection that we adults have developed simply by living longer. A good driver at 17 years old is still a good driver. But, a good driver at 27 years old is considered a better driver, because they have more experience.
So how do we become a safe go-to sounding board and share our wisdom with our teens? How do we get them to want to come to us, rather than their friends, when they are working through something? Simply telling them that they can “always talk to us” may not be effective if we have not built trust and connection. One way to do this is through healthy communication.
Building That Bridge
When trying to communicate with your teens, remember that less is more. The less you say, the more your teen will open up. Listening to your teenager is an essential part of effective communication. When you really hear what your child is saying, you gain more insight into their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
First, when your teenager is speaking to you, show them that you are interested in what they are saying by maintaining eye contact and nodding (active listening) and responding with empathy and understanding.
Active listening and reflective listening are two different communication techniques that can be used to improve understanding and connection in conversations. Both techniques can be effective for teens as they can help improve communication skills, build trust, and promote empathy in their relationships with peers, parents, and teachers.
Active listening helps you understand their perspectives and experiences, which can help you build a stronger relationship with your children. It is a technique where the listener fully concentrates on what the speaker is saying and provides feedback in the form of verbal and nonverbal cues, such as nodding or summarizing what was said. It is a good idea to put aside distractions like your phone or laptop and give them your full attention. The goal of active listening is to show the speaker that you are fully present (maintaining eye contact and no interrupting) and interested in what they have to say.
Reflective listening, where you rephrase or summarize what the teen has said, can also be helpful in demonstrating empathy and understanding. This method requires the listener to focus on the speaker’s message and then rephrase it in their own words or perhaps even mirror word for word what was said to show that they have understood what was spoken.
When a teenager is talking about hurtful things that others have said, it is important to listen to them with empathy and validate their feelings. It can be tempting to offer advice or reassurances, but in some cases, this can be dismissive of the teen’s emotions and may not be helpful. Using cliches like “everything happens for a reason” or trying to explain the behavior of others may not be the most effective approach. They can be seen as superficial or insincere, often overused, and lack depth or meaning. Also, shaming teen behavior or making comparisons to siblings or friends is a great way to encourage your teen to shut down quickly. Remember, that no one’s feelings are wrong so it is useless energy to argue about the way your child feels. While it is important to help teens understand why someone might behave in a hurtful way, it is most essential to validate their feelings and help them process their emotions.
Let your teenager finish speaking before responding or asking questions.
Open-ended questions are a useful tool for encouraging teenagers to express themselves and share their thoughts and feelings. These types of questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response, but instead require more detailed and thoughtful answers. Here are some examples of open-ended questions:
“What are your thoughts about that?”
“How do you feel about what happened?”
“Can you tell me more about what you mean?”
“What do you think the best solution would be?”
“What would you like to see happen next?”
Alike But Different
While every teenager is unique and different, there can be some general differences when it comes to talking with teen boys versus teen girls. These differences may stem from a variety of factors, including societal expectations, gender roles, and hormonal changes during adolescence. Here are some things to consider when communicating with teen boys and teen girls:
Communication style: Teen boys may be more direct and to the point in their communication, while teen girls may use more descriptive and emotional language. Boys may be more likely to engage in banter and teasing, while girls may be more likely to discuss feelings and relationships.
Body language: Boys may use more physical gestures and movements when communicating, while girls may use more facial expressions and eye contact. Boys may also stand farther apart when talking, while girls may stand closer together. Boys may open up easier while simultaneously doing an activity (i.e. fishing).
Emotional expression: Teen boys may be socialized to hide or suppress their emotions, while teen girls may be more comfortable expressing their feelings. However, this is changing, and it is important to encourage all teenagers to express their emotions in healthy ways.
Please keep in mind that the above are generalizations made about genders and their communication styles. As mentioned, every individual is unique and it is beneficial to first consider your teen’s personality when interacting with them. Overall, when a teenager is talking about hurtful things others have said, it is crucial to listen with empathy and validate their emotions. Approach each conversation with an open mind, listen actively, and be empathetic to their unique experiences and perspectives.
By actively and reflectively listening to your teenagers, you can create an environment where they feel heard, valued, and respected. This,in turn, can help them develop better communication skills and build a stronger relationship with you. Additionally, it is important to help teens develop healthy coping strategies to deal with the pain they are feeling. Providing resources for mental health support, encouraging healthy coping mechanisms like exercise or creative activities, and helping them to develop positive relationships and social support can help teens navigate difficult situations and build resilience for the future, causing them to thrive and reach their full potential.