Celebrities are constantly telling parents to talk to their kids about the issue of the day. But, what celebrities don't tell you is how to talk to your kids.
Clinical psychologist Erik Fisher, Ph.D, says that communication between parent and child is crucial to a child's sense of safety, trust, self-esteem and power. But as children enter high school and become more self-sufficient, communication can be tough. In Fisher's book, The Art of Empowered Parenting, he gives these guidelines for better communication:
Realize the power of “No.” It's one of the smallest words in our language, but it can be harmful when not used properly. “When a child hears 'No's from his parents, it can set a negative frame of reference for how the child feels about himself, his parents, and the world,” Fisher says. Instead, parents should try, whenever possible, to use the word “Yes” and reframe the situation to look at other options that won’t leave your teen feeling shut down.
Avoid criticism. Although most of the time parents do it to help their teens improve, it can also lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment and inadequacy. When giving feedback, open the conversation with phrases like “I'm not sure if you have considered X, Y, or Z in this situation and I would like to hear your thoughts” or “I would like to talk about what happened at school today.” Avoid commands and put-downs.
Don't lecture. It's not a communication tool, it's a power trip. Don't cut your teen out of the conversation. Short and to-the-point communication which leads to brainstorming possible solutions is the way to go. Also, add in a bit of humor, where appropriate, and don't be afraid to point out your own past mistakes as examples, as your teen gets older.
The Family Meeting. This can be a great ice-breaker for families. Everyone in the family should attend and everyone should get equal time to speak without interruption. Consider setting guidelines, and a short and sweet agenda. Always try to end the meeting on a positive note.
Building Trust. Sometimes parents can communicate distrust without even realizing it, like when you finish your teen's sentence. Ask your teen straight up how he feels about himself, or about situations in his life and the life of his peers. This will not only help his self-awareness, but will also tell him that his parent is really listening.
The Power of Praise. It can be as simple as telling your teen how much fun he is to be around. But it's important to consider how praise is communicated. Saying, “You did a wonderful job, and I love you for that” could imply that you only love your teen when he does a wonderful job. Keep in mind that compliments aren't just for wonderful displays of talent, they're also important to give when your child puts in a good effort.
So, next time you get the urge to talk to your teen about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll remember this: stay positive, keep it short, give them your undivided attention and don't be afraid to talk a little about the things that they do right. Even with parents and teens, communication should be a two-way street.