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4 Ways To Effectively Communicate With Your Teenager

Updated: Nov 20, 2021


HELP! Just Can't Seem To Get Through To My Teenager

This is a common cry for parents of teenagers, regardless of their background. So don't feel like you are the only one singled out. Beside I am just about to share four ways to exceptionally and effectively communicate with your teenager.

As a child psychologist, researcher , educator and a parent of teenagers, I know very well that communication can breakdown between parents of teenagers and their teenager and that pushing or punishing teenagers when this has happened, would hardly work. In fact we push and punish, we are failing to effectively communicate with them and this can make them ever more defiant. Teenagers will often express their defiance either by internalisation i.e clamming and shutting down or externalising which is evidenced by erupting and exploding.

In earlier programs we have discussed topics such as Raising Remarkable Teenagers and understanding the teenagers’ brain . Teenagers brains are way far from being fully developed which affects their ability to self regulate. This is why during these teenage and young adult years they behave impulsively, irritably and irrationally. It is therefore of paramount importance that we adopt safe ways of effectively communicating with teenagers, ways that align with how their brain works and the hormonal changes taking place. Understanding what’s happening can make us more compassionate, be willing to learn how to effectively communicate with them and ready to then assist them to learn safer ways of expressing and regulating themselves.

When teenagers experience or are faced with challenges, their go to responses as mentioned earlier are the two extremes; explode or shut down, and who can blame them? Those are only options they know at this stage. Unfortunately, when the teenagers are in these two states, they do not allow us to support our appropriately.

However there are several ways we can effectively communicate with our teenagers so as as to truly reach them and enrich their lives and improve our relationship with them. As parents, our aim is to improve the way we relate and communicate with teenagers and guide and guard them as they navigate their teenage years on towards being young adults and beyond.

When we are able to effectively communicate with our teenagers, we will be able to support them effectively and also help them learn and adopt new and safer ways of expressing themselves.

Here Are 4 Ways To Effectively Communicate

With Your Teenager

1: Lean In - Be Curious Not Furious

This very basic yet powerful principle will help straight away by improving your communication and relationship with your teenager. Do you understand or agree with what they are on about, their point of view? It doesn’t matter! Just lean in and listen genuinely. Show interest. Be curious not furious.

Let's take for example: your teenage girl is busy doing make up while you know pretty well she should be doing her school work. You are out of your wits thinking, her grades are falling and all she can think of is make-up nonsense.

On the contrary: Your girl is thinking I am meeting with Melissa this afternoon and I want to look good and want my make up to have set so that way it looks natural.

See, both of you are on two different thinking zones. You are on a whole different frequency from hers. Never assume you are on the same page with your teenager and that’s why leaning in and showing interest is very important.

When I say be curious, what I mean is that at first instance let her know you’ve noticed her, no judgement in your face, just noticing. For example; you can call her by name and just ask if she is ok. Then sincerely ask her why she is doing her makeup. Then listen! don't say a word even if you don't understand and even if what she says in response doesn’t make sense to you.

Once you’ve got the facts and her response, and ONLY after she has responded, TRY responding like this.

DD, I understand it is very important that you look great and you have your high standards. I also know that your homework is due tomorrow and if you don’t do it, there’s detention and this means you staying longer at school when you could be doing something else of your choice. This homework is a priority responsibility at the moment and it is very important for you to do it to your highest capability. I know you had a plan to do it. Is there anything I can do now to assist you complete your homework as well as making sure that you are ready and looking great for when you go out with Melissa?

Think about the whole psychology of your response. You’ve done 4 crucial things (as below) that are important for your teenage daughter's self esteem development.

  1. Undivided presence in those few moments where you just listened.

  2. You acknowledged, affirmed and validated her her as a person as well as her thinking.

  3. You've shown her that you trust her to do her work.

  4. Empowered her to think of solutions with the knowledge that you are willing to support.

Your whole response makes her relaxed and receptive. In fact the 2Ps presence and propping are the TWO MUST DO successful parenting tips discussed in the program understanding the teenagers' brain. These are very vital in supporting teenagers to acquire habits of highly successful teenagers.

Once your teenager feels understood, she is now more likely to start telling you some best ways to solve the situation at hand. Why? because she can trust you, she knows you are safe. Because leaned in.

The biggest mistake we as parents make is we jump in quick to tell them what they should be doing or threaten with punishment which only ignites defensiveness. This then comes out in ways of aggression or suppression as discussed earlier.

2: Remaining Calm No Matter What

When teenagers feel challenged or threatened whether this is real or perceived threat, they can react in very unhealthy and unbecoming, even nasty ways. They may use words that are hurtful or even get physically violent. Always remember their behaviour is their responsibility, and your behaviour is your responsibility.

It’s understandably a very tough situation when our own teenage kids are in such a state and hurl abuses at us. Believe me I have been there many times.You feel like your insides are being reaped apart. You feel you'll chew them and annihilate them. But adding fuel to fire you know sure well won’t help.

The solution is, don’t allow yourself to be emotionally dragged into their level of thinking and operation at that time no matter how wronged you feel. Programs such as Unshakable Self Confidence Builder can help you build an inner strength, strength so solid that no matter what is thrown your way you can handle it calmly.

When you take everything into perspective, the truth is you love your teenage kid and you want the best for them. Just because they are behaving in an unlovable manner doesn’t mean you don't love them or love them less. Instead this is the opportunity to model compassion. Approve of who they are although disapproving of their behaviour. Then take the opportunity to guide and guard them in the right way. Be firm in your calm.

Refuse to get pulled into the drama. Communicate with the teenager clearly that you are willing to engage when both of you are in a safer state of mind. Remember you have the right to take timeout. When things are calmer you can revisit the issue. When you are angry and your teenager is angry, only fireworks can result. It is very unlikely that the teenager will have the voice of reason or the strength of mind to remove themselves from this situation. They just have not learnt to self regulate. By removing yourself safely, you model to them how it's done. Before leaving the spot, remind the teenager that you are willing to talk and engage when they are calm.

It is likely that you may not succeed every time, but who cares, you are not perfect and no parent is. The idea is to constantly make progress so that you are becoming a calmer parent day by day. Hold yourself accountable but forgive yourself when you flop. With time you will become one who can easily and calmly remove themselves. The dimensions of your relationship will change to a default, i.e everyone knows that unless there’s calm there’s no conversation. No Calm, No Conversation as I like to refer to it. So if they need to speak to mum or dad they need to do so calmly.

3: Asking Empowering Questions

Empowering questions are open, genuine and simple. They indicate to your teen that you are ready to listen, willing to understand; and you haven’t got preconceived responses that you want to hear.

Apart from your words, let the tone of your voice communicate that you trust them and that you know they are capable of figuring things out. This imbues self esteem in them. Avoid accusatory questions. These act to demean and defeat the very self esteem we as parent ought to be building in them.

Questions like, what’s the matter with you? communicate that you have already decided that there’s something wrong with them and now you want to know what it is. This can only serve to make them feel awful about themselves and feel they have to fight to defend themselves.

Why can you do anything right? Research continues to show us that criticism only causes teenagers to shut down, close up and not open up. Empowering questions would sound like this,

"Joseph, I notice you were late yesterday and today too. Have you got any suggestions how you might get here on time tomorrow?."

Again, after you've stated your factual observation, listen in and wait. Notice, you have not suggested he is bad or useless at time keeping. Just bare facts which they are unlikely to contest. But then notice you have quickly shown them that you believe they are capable of coming up with answer which straight away instills trust and they are unlikely to fight you for being trusted. People don’t tend to fight those who believe in them.

Give him an opportunity to come up with suggestions, and even ask him if he would like to hear some of your suggestions. Remind him that you are supporting him and ultimately it’s up to him to come up with what best solution that suits him. Yes remind him you are willing to support him as he explores and you are not pushing solutions to or on him.

When you allow him to explore his solutions, they then know he is responsible for the results and thus the consequences. Then allow them to face both the natural and logical consequences of their choices.

It is during these moments that your teenager learns to critically evaluate solutions to their problems, a skill that will serve them into their adulthood. Challenge them to think through every of their suggested solutions including evaluating what the consequences might be and whether they would be satisfied with these consequences.

4: Avoid Dependency On Your Teenager’s Behaviour.

Many parents see their teenagers as an extension of themselves and therefore live a life where they feel the teenager must behave in a certain way so they don't let them down. Unfortunately this dependency can lead to a toxic relationship that oscillates between being clogged with guilt and shame when their teenagers behave badly or moments of fleeting glee, glow and gloat when the teenagers behave well. This need and dependency makes many parents very vulnerable because their efforts and control game can be very taxing as it involves constant plans to control and manipulate.

In addition, once your teenager knows how desperate and in need you are of them to behave they can take the reigns. Now you are playing to their game. They know that you are so in need of them to behave well to validate yourself, they begin to manipulate and control you.

As parents we need to understand we are a separate entity to our teenagers and their behaviour is their responsibility. This starts with loving yourself enough to not allow yourself to be an emotional puppet and affirmations such as those in the program Unshakable Self-Confidence are very effective for this. This will help you have the integrity and agility to be positioned emotionally firm no matter how the teenager is flaring and flickering.

Don’t ever forget who you are and that you are a worthy person and a parent.

Remind yourself that how you respond and behave towards your teenager is your responsibility. How they behave is their responsibility.

Do not allow yourself to stand there and be disrespected and hurled abuse at or spoken to like trash. Act in your power and purpose as a worthy human being deserving of respect.

For example if your teenager stars hurling hurtful words, just say calmly,

“I will not allow myself to be treated me like this, therefore I am going away, once you are calm, I will be available”

This one sentence does you good in three ways.

  • Gives you an opportunity to walk away respectfully.

  • Gives you time to plan for how you will sort out the issue later.

  • Gives your teenager no fighting partner and chance.

Overall, both of you now have an opportunity to go calm down.

Any attempts to try and sort anything out at the hottest time would be absolutely unproductive, simply futile!

I hope this has been helpful and really it's about practicing and trying them out to see how effective they are for you and your teenager. Remember to shoot me an email HERE and let me know how it goes. Also we can discuss how else we can help you in Raising A Remarkable Teenager.

My last request; Please share this post with friends.

Raising Remarkable Teenagers website and products are managed by Angela Karanja; Psychologist, Researcher, Educator and Parent.

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