Communicating with Your Adolescent (page 2)

Communicating with Your Adolescent

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Updated on Apr 10, 2009

These, obviously, are not active listening responses (though they certainly are tempting). They shut down the conversation, and the high-powered parent loses a shot at some very important information. What did the boy take? Marijuana, alcohol, PCP? Experimentation may be normal in teens, but what prompted this? Was it really the first time? Why is he telling me this now? (Actually, a teen’s telling you something like this obviously implies either a pretty good relationship to start with, or an overwhelming desire on his part to provoke the daylights out of you).

Adolescents can say many things that severely test one’s patience, and very often a parent’s spontaneous response is not very helpful. What would you say, for example, if your  15-year-old son said something like:

        1) “I don’t think sex before marriage is so bad.”

        2) “I think Camels taste a lot better than Winstons.”

        3) “I’m gonna get my nose pierced—all my friends are doing it.”

        4) “This family is really boring!”

        5) “You know, I think your eating so much is going to kill you.”

These kinds of statements can catch you off-guard. If you are going to try to actively listen, remember that your goal is first to try to understand what the other person is thinking and saying, and second, to let him know that you are trying to understand.

How do you do this? There are several different ways that this can be done, and once you get used to them, the whole process can feel quite natural.

You might start with what are called “openers”—brief comments or questions designed to elicit further information from your child. These can include such statements as:

        1) “How’s that?” (Sex)

        2) “I’m listening.” (Smoking)

        3) “Let’s talk about it—tell me what you’re thinking.” (Ear Piercing)

        4) “Really?” (Joys of Family Living)

        5) “Fill me in—so to speak—on what you’re thinking.” (Criticizing Your Eating Habits)

These comments require self-control, and are especially difficult when you are caught off-guard. They may also appear incredibly passive to you, but remember that active listening must precede any problem-solving discussion. If discipline or other action is necessary, worry about it after you’ve gotten the facts.  

An opener can be a question or it can be some other kind of statement, but usually further questions will be necessary. Here are some questions that might keep the talk going, as well as elicit more information (be prepared to be accused of sounding like a psychiatrist):

        1) “How many of your friends have had sexual relationships?”

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