Communicating with Your Adolescent

Communicating with Your Adolescent

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Updated on Apr 10, 2009

Most parents want to get along with their kids as well as possible. Since it sometimes feels like you come from different planets, however, getting along with your teens is a lot easier said than done. However, maintaining as friendly and open a relationship as you can is important for many reasons. It’s more fun. It raises everyone’s self-esteem, strengthens kids’ identification with their parents, and makes problems easier to resolve.

There are several ways of improving how you get along with a teen, and one of the most important is active listening. Active listening is a way of listening and talking to someone sympathetically. The process tries to accomplish two things: 1) to understand what another person is saying and thinking—from his or her point of view; and 2) to communicate back and check that understanding with the person doing the talking. The listener is an active participant in the conversation, rather than someone who just sits and nods from time to time.

Active listening is not easy, but it can be mastered. Once you get past the point of feeling artificial, “parrot-like” or too passive, you can sometimes pleasantly knock the kids right off their feet. Active listening should always be used at the beginning of any problem solving discussion. 

People who do counseling or psychotherapy have to use active listening when meeting a client for the first time. If they don’t, they won’t get the critical information they need to help solve problems. Picture this scene: a lady walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, “Doctor, I’ve been feeling rather depressed lately.”

Before she has a chance to continue, the doctor says, “Depression? No big problem. I deal with that all the time and it’s one of the most treatable things there is. Why, I’d venture to say that with some antidepressant medication and six to eight weeks of cognitive therapy you’ll be feeling much better, and after that we can take a look at...”

This is ridiculous, of course. This doctor is missing the boat in two ways. He is not getting all the information he needs, and he is also not doing anything to build a healthy and cooperative relationship.   

The same thing is true in dealing with a child: if you don’t listen, you may not get important information you need to know in order to realistically attack a problem. You also undermine the relationship further.

Imagine your 16-year-old son went to a party on Friday night. On Saturday morning he gets up about 10:30 a.m. and comes down to the kitchen where you are reading the paper. No one else is home, and he says, “Well I finally did it. I got high last night for the first time.”

How would you respond? Imagine, feeling rather startled and upset, you chose from the following:

        “I never want to hear that kind of talk again, young man!”
        “Well, fine, you’re grounded until further notice.”
         “Great, so now you’re on drugs, huh? Listen, pal, when I was a kid...”
        “How stupid can you be!? I told you those friends of yours were nothing but...”

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