Communicating with Your Adolescent (page 3)

Communicating with Your Adolescent

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Updated on Apr 10, 2009

        2) “So you tried smoking and liked the taste?”

        3) “How much does it cost to do something like that?”

        4) “Why do you think we never do anything you like?”

        5) “How come?”

In print alone, of course, we can’t describe the tone of voice that should accompany these questions, but it should be readily apparent that any of the above could be totally ruined by a sarcastic, angry, belittling, or condescending tone of voice.

Reflecting Feelings
If you are going to tell someone that you think you understand her, it’s usually helpful to let her know that you can imagine how she must have felt under the circumstances she’s describing.

Imagine the five conversations above continued. At some point in the discussion, the parent might have an opportunity to say:

        1) “You were really embarrassed thinking everyone else knew more about sex than you did.”

        2) “You’re really curious about smoking.”

        3) “In your bunch of friends you’re feeling odd without a nose ring.”

        4) “Sounds like you feel our family is almost depressing.”

        5) “You’re afraid I won’t live to see 50.”

Be careful here, because some adolescents don’t like to admit or talk about their feelings to you, and even though you may be right on target, they may deny or take offense at what you’re saying. As a kind of safeguard, the tone of all of the above statements can be changed somewhat so they come across more as questions. Then it’s more like, “Am I right that you felt this way?” The teen can then agree with you, deny or reexplain the feeling. If you are still getting defensive responses every time feelings come up, scratch the feelings part, and stick to a more “intellectual” type of conversation, using just the other active listening tactics.

Checks or Summaries
From time to time during a talk, it is helpful to check with the teenager whether or not you are “catching her drift” or really getting a good idea of what she’s saying. These kinds of comments let you know whether or not you’re understanding her correctly, but they also have a second purpose: they tell the adolescent that you’re really listening to what she’s saying.

Using our five examples again—but changing the order just a bit—the parent’s conversation at some point might go like this:

        2) “What you’re saying is that if Dad and I can smoke—and we know it’s not good for us—you should be able to as    well?”

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