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How to Talk to Teenagers

Submitted by on April 3, 2014 – 1:41 pmNo Comment

How to Talk to Your Teenager

A Simple Tip for Better Relationships with Teenagers

by Amy Egan

Parenting teenagers can be a slippery slope. It is something frequently talked about, voraciously written about and dreaded by most parents. But does it really have to be awful? Is it a given that we all emerge from it fried, dyed and laid to the side? Or is it possible to get through the teen years relatively unscathed? I believe that it is – with a few helpful tools!

In this article I will be discussing the tool I believe is the most important. And it has to do with our communication strategy.

Most teens unhappy with their parents complain their parents don’t listen and don’t understand them. They don’t want to talk to their parents about their feelings because their parents just don’t ‘get them’. Therefore, teens who not so long ago ran to Mommy or Daddy with every hurt, fear, worry or dream, share almost nothing their parents anymore.

Let’s look at what a typical conversation with a teenager might look like. Sarah, a fifteen year old, is upset because her boyfriend has broken up with her and is pursuing  her good friend, Kat.  Sarah, heartbroken, comes to her mother, Karen, in tears, sharing what feels like an earth shattering tragedy. What is Karen’s first instinct? If Karen is like most mothers, she wants to make her daughter feel better. She is very uncomfortable seeing her daughter unhappy, and wants to remove the pain as quickly as she possibly can. She is also looking to relieve her own pain she feels from seeing her daughter upset. Karen likely responds with things like:

  • he obviously isn’t the kind of guy you want if he is going to go after your good friend
  • you can do better than him
  • Kat won’t date him – she would never hurt you
  • everyone has their heart broken at least once, best to get it over with at 15
  • you guys were getting too serious – it’s best for all that you’ve broken up
  • you are a beautiful girl and there are plenty of fish in the sea

These may all seem like harmless and loving responses to a broken hearted daughter but think about the message they are actually giving.  “You shouldn’t feel the way you feel. Your feelings are wrong, not valid.” When we respond the way Karen did above, we are not giving our child what they truly need in the moment and that is to be heard. Simply….to be heard, validated and understood.  The fact is Sarah DOES feel devastated. If her mother implies she should not feel what she feels, she is teaching her to stuff her feelings, not trust herself and certainly, not to go to her mom with anything of importance again!

The best way to heal an emotional wound is to accept it. Not run from it, and not stuff it. And a wonderful and healthy way for a teen to work through feelings is to be heard. So let’s look at another, more helpful way that Karen could respond to Sarah’s sadness:

  • wow…you sound very hurt
  • oh, sweetie, that is hard
  • I can see that this is very painful for you
  • would a hug help?

The key is to know that as a parent it is in no way our job to fix this. We actually cannot fix it. It is something painful that the teen is going to have to meander through. But we make it more likely, if we listen, truly hear the pain (even though this is uncomfortable for us!) and validate that the child is experiencing something uncomfortable, that our child will emerge stronger and more confident.

If we can do this on a consistent basis, we increase the odds our child will continue sharing with us, stay close to us throughout the teen years, and heal from emotional wounds more quickly. We also help model working through emotions in a healthy way rather than teaching them that anger, sadness and hurt are things to be shunned and stuffed away.

If you would like to know more about this method of communicating with teens or children of any age, I recommend the book, “How To Talk So Teens Will Listen, and Listen So Teens Will Talk” by Faber and Mazish.

~ Happy Parenting!

Amy Egan - Ask Amy Column - North Texas KidsAmy Egan is a parenting consultant and life coach. She coaches privately, loves to speak to parent organizations and hosts several weekly life coaching groups for women and moms. If you are interested in private or group coaching contact Amy at a.egan518@sbcglobal.net or Like her parenting page on Facebook,  Amy Egan – Texas Parenting.

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