In times of great social change, we look for the things we can control. We may not be able to predict the future for ourselves or our teens, but we can control how we communicate. The way we communicate reveals what we value and how we value it.
I longed to connect more deeply with my teens. I knew I wanted to break generational patterns of authoritarianism and family alcoholism. But I didn’t know exactly how. That led me first to tears and frustration, then to parenting books, later to a therapist and my own recovery and along the way a Masters degree in sociology and communication dynamics. Eventually my parenting journey led me to learn communication skills that helped my teen girls and I connect heart to heart, rather than defense to defense.
Communication Is Reflexive
One of the key things I learned is that parents and kids hold different positions in the social order. Seems obvious, right? But there are profound implications that lie deeper. There is a natural power differential or inequality in the parent child relationship. The difference in social location can be a barrier to real connection, especially if our focus is controlling behavior and not relating heart to heart.
Additionally, when we don’t communicate in a way that demonstrates we are interested in what kids have to say, they won’t share their feelings, ideas and opinions with us. This was a specific fear of mine, because I was raising girls. I wanted my girls to grow up to be empowered women who stood up for themselves in the world. They had to be able to stand up to me during their teen years, if they were going to fully step into their truth.
Communication is reflexive. Their messaging affected me, just as much as my messaging impacted them. They made me a better person by sharing their reality. In fact, they still do! It wasn’t easy. Communicating with consciousness meant that I had the opportunity to see where I projected what I wanted and didn’t value their perspectives. Conscious communication was a sure way to see where I didn’t yet value the autonomy of my teen daughters.
What is Conscious Communication Anyway?
Conscious communication occurs when I am fully present emotionally and spiritually with my kids and my words reflect the awareness that I am responsible for my own thoughts, actions and feelings and they are responsible for their thoughts, actions and feelings.
Conscious communication aligns with the awareness that I communicate cleanly without reacting to something from my past. Responding intentionally is the way to connect with our teenagers. It builds trustworthiness and demonstrates equity.
Conscious communication skills like affirmation, open-ended questions and active listening invite trust and demonstrates how equality works.
But, no one does this perfectly. Nor are we meant to do it perfectly. I believe our kids learn from how we emotionally regulate our thoughts, actions and feelings. I can’t tell you how many times, I had to apologize for losing it with them because I was triggered. By “losing it,” I don’t just mean yelling. I mean, I sometimes, missed my teen’s messages because I was stuck in my head or worried about my own agenda. But holding the intention of hearing their messaging and processing how it triggered me, helped my awareness grow. It also helped the trust between us grow. It was truthful.
Communicating consciously shows the reflexive nature of communication — what my kids share is just as important as what I share. If I want my teens to open up and talk to me, I have to value what they say, just as much if not more than what I say. That’s the secret to getting our teens to talk to us.
My girls let me know clearly when I stepped on their toes. I did the same. It was messy and hurtful at times, but it was honest and real. And then, I celebrated when the communication between us was tender and loving. All the stuff of humanity was inside our interactions.
Changing How We Communicate
I came to believe that every interaction counts towards creating the intimacy and respect we desire and the equity we need.
Throughout my career in youth development and child advocacy, I have seen the powerful, creative, people-making difference, conscious communication makes. Its magic. The simple act of listening to a teen share the truth of their life, can change the trajectory of that life for the better.
That’s why I emphasize learning the conscious communication skills that reflect the true messages of the heart in my parent coaching practice. Conscious communication not only changes the relationship dynamics between parent and teen, but it changes us as people.
Language communicates our value system. Change the way we communicate, and we can change the way we value youth. Valuing youth as equal co-creators in the family illuminates the path to a more equitable world.