How Can You Help With Teenage Problems When Your Teens Won’t Talk?
Do Conversations With Your Teens Sound Like This?
Jimmy, 15-years-old, just got home from soccer practice. “Tom is a jerk,” he fumed as he bounded through the door.
“Jim Cooper, you know better than to call people names. What is the problem?” demanded his mom, Kim.
Jim’s voice trembled with hurt as he angrily snapped, “He laughed and made fun me in front of everyone when I tripped and fell on the field today.”
“Well, kids can be cruel at that age. Don’t let it bother you so much, Jimmy,” Mom counseled with a sigh of exasperation.
Jim rolled his eyes and slouched to the computer. Kim knew their conversation was over. ‘Why does he always pour his heart out on that computer and ignore me?’ she wondered.
Kim truly cares about Jimmy’s day. She remembers how hard teenage problems felt. So why can’t she seem to connect with him and help?
Everyone knows teenage problems come from many directions. Teens love to talk about them–to everyone but their parents, it seems. In a workshop with teens, I asked them why they don’t want to talk with their parents. Here is their list:
• Afraid they will use what we tell them against us.
• Don’t want them to get mad at me for what I feel or did.
• If we open up, they will interrupt us and preach.
• They keep bringing up the past.
• They try to make us learn from their mistakes, instead of letting us learn from our own.
Whether you actually do these things is less important than if your teen thinks you might do them! So use this list of fears to help you know what to avoid, how to help your teen open up, and teach him or her some problem solving tools that will work.
There are three keys to getting teens to open up, fostering communication with teens, and teach them to solve their teenage problems responsibly, without lectures or giving advice.
#1: Really Listen
True listening takes patience and focus, but it is the key to understanding your teen’s feelings. Teens recognize–and resent—distracted listening. So give them the same attention you would give to a friend. Big stuff is often layered within chatter. Teens gauge how well you listen to the chatter as a sign of whether they can trust you enough to share their big stuff.
As you listen, listen for the real issue beneath teens’ feelings and behavior. Clarify, in your own words, what you think the real issue is and how they feel about it. “It sounds like that really hurt your feelings, especially when there were other people around.” Even if you aren’t exactly on target, it will be clear you are taking teenage problems seriously and want to understand your teen’s feelings.
#2: Avoid Minimizing Teenage Problems
Emotions can easily overwhelm teens; when they feel understood, they usually calm down much faster. That’s why listening is so important in communicating with teens. You may be surprised at the changes you see in teen behavior simply by taking their concerns seriously (not minimizing, not over-reacting).
“Don’t let it bother you” sounds like you don’t understand or care. When you decide that if it matters to your teen, it matters to you, your teen will want to share his/her feelings with you. Teens want to be understood and want to learn problem solving tools, without being made to feel like a failure.
#3: Learn To Ask Helpful Questions
Teens can be impulsive. This is due to important changes happening in their brains during adolescence. While you might think that’s justification for giving advice, it’s exactly why you don’t want to give advice and do want to use problem solving tools to guide your teen to his/her own solution. How you do that is with helpful questions, not grilling questions that cause defensiveness.
For example, ask your teen, “How do you want to handle the situation?” Invite him/her to brainstorm possible ideas. For each, ask “What do you think will happen if you do that?” These kinds of questions help him/her think through teenage problems.
If you have concerns about your teen’s idea, keep asking “then what would happen?” Offer clues to your concerns without lecturing or giving advice. For example, if your teen says, “I should punch him,” say, “what would happen if you did that during gym or after school?” Then he might think about the longer-term consequences.
• Problem solving tools are learned and perfect solutions do not exist. Your goal is not to guide your teen to the most perfect solution, but to support your teen in finding his/her own solution. Imperfect solutions are fine to try and tweak, as long as they are safe.
• Maturity and responsibility come from experience. Teenage problems give lots of opportunities to gain experience. Learning is trying, sometimes failing and trying again. The only failure is in not trying at all. We must let our teens experience finding solutions on their own and testing them out.
• Your teens are not you. Their solutions and learning process may not look like yours. Help them discover what works for them: through writing, talking, and practicing. Your role is not to design your children but to help them understand their unique design.
You can have the open relationship you have always wanted with your teen and I’d be honored to support you in learning how. By using the Universal Blueprint® Parenting Success Formula to improve your communication with teens, it will automatically improve teen behavior. If you want more insights, information and practical tools to do that, get the 7 Keys to Parenting Success ebook now. It’s free!
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.
Reprint Guidelines: You may publish/reprint any article from our site for non-commercial purposes in your ezine, website, blog, forum, RSS feed or print publication, as long as it is the entire un-edited article and title and includes the article’s source credit, including the author’s bio and active links as they appear with the article. We also appreciate a quick note/e-mail telling us where you are reprinting the article. To request permission from the author to publish this article in print or for commercial purposes, please complete and send us a Permission to Reprint Form.