Respectful Communication: Your Relationship with Your Teen Determines Success

Communicating with Teens

Getting your teen back on track is key to their success, and the quality of your relationship will help them get there!

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.

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. It’s 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.

Teens will shut down, make demands, whine, yell, or slam the door–whatever they feel is needed–if they feel like they don’t have control. The key to getting respectful communication from your teen is giving it.

If you want tweens and teens to hear you and what you counsel, you must make the investment in time and energy to listen to them. Youth development research reveals that many at-risk behaviors can be prevented by having a positive relationship with a caring adult. Rather than bark orders, the first step is listening. You can actively listen to your teens which will help them open up to you. Then you can share how their communication makes you feel.

Active Listening:

Passive listening is simply hearing what your tween has to say without a response from the parent. Active listening involves reflecting back the feeling of what your child is communicating to you, like a type of conversational mirror. Teens feel valued when adults actively listen to them.

When there is a natural pause in her conversation with me, I simply repeat the last few words of her last sentence. This encourages teens to share more, because they sense we are interested and want to learn more.

  • Re-state or rephrase again to check meaning. Don’t assume understanding. Check it out. This step requires a little bravery. Being willing to check out my interpretation requires vulnerability.
  • Summarize – When the conversation starts winding down, summarize the essence of the conversation to confirm meaning and build trust. This may be the hardest part of active listening but, with practice, skills grow.
  • Reflect the suspected emotion behind the teen’s communication and wait for their response to confirm or deny your emotional detective work.

Try active listening, the next time your teen seems like they are shutting you out and see what happens. (It does take time to master.) It may feel mechanical at first, but it shows your teen that you are really listening to them and are trying to understand their meaning.

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