When talking to teens, there is one important thing to understand: We are NOT the same!So often, we think because we are in the same family we think we should understand each other. This is so far from the truth. The quicker you understand that each and every one of us is unique, the easier it can be to communicate with one another. We all process things differently. We all are motivated differently. We all understand things differently. This is a GOOD thing! Could you imagine if we were all exactly the same?! Yes, it does make things challenging at times – but it can make it so much more interesting and rewarding once we learn to let go.
On my “Media Mom” segment on Local 5 Live, we were discussing the “Ignore No More” app. This app allows parents to disable their teenager’s phone if their child doesn’t respond to the parent. If the child doesn’t respond promptly, the parent can lock the phone. It can only be used to call the parents or 911. The teen is unable to text or use any games or apps. While I think this app is pretty incredible, I also hope that parents and kids can work together so an app like this isn’t needed. I can not speak to the cell phone issue, as we did not have cell phones during my teen years and my kids are too young for them. However, what I can offer are some tips when it comes to communication – especially with kids and teens.
Tips to Help You Talk to Your Teen
Don’t Tell Them, Show Them
This is one of the biggest things I emphasize with everyone of my parent-clients. I don’t care what behavior you are trying to instill in your child…if you are not engaging in the healthy behavior, do not expect them to either. So many of my clients come to me complaining about their teens being depressed, being lazy, getting into trouble, not eating healthy, and having poor self-esteem. The first thing I ask my client is,”How are you taking care of yourself?” You need to lead by example. If you are drinking at night, what makes you think your child won’t do the same? If you are eating fast food, so will your child. If you are on your phone and computer all the time, then you can’t yell at your kids for doing the same. If you say you are fat and complain about your body, you are teaching them to do the same. It all starts with you. You are the parent. You are setting the standard. It is your responsibility to guide them and show them how to love themselves. You do that by starting with you.
Hear Them and Understand Them
Your child needs and wants to be heard. Stop whatever you are doing and listen to them when they talk to you. Look at them and give them your attention. REALLY HEAR THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM! Remember…your reality and their reality is completely different. You must really understand this. Yes, we want the best for our kids. We want them to get good grades, go to a good school, and get a job. I get it…I truly do. I am a parent now and I want the same. However, you have to realize that they haven’t lived all the life we have yet so they do not understand the implications. So the more you can come down to their level and really hear them and understand that their priorities and your priorities are totally different, the easier it can be. When your child is excited about the boy or girl they started dating, try and remember your first date. Remember how awesome this was. When your child is upset about a fight they got into with their friend, try to recall the fights you had and how much it sucked. If you can bring yourself back to your childhood, it will help you relate. So often we say things like, “Oh, get over it, it’s not worth it,” or “You are too young to date, you need to think about school,” or “This isn’t worth your time”. Saying these things will just push your teenager further away. They will not want to come to you with their feelings. But if you say things like, “I am so sorry you are having a fight with so-and-so. I remember when I fought with my friend. It sucks. Anything I can do?” Or act interested in the person your teen is talking to or dating. The more you show your support, the more they will feel like they can open up.
Lose the Lecture & Advise and Guide
No one likes to be lectured….no one! I don’t know anyone that likes to be told what to do. It’s sucks all around. If you lecture, just know that you are not being heard. All kids hear is yelling and they just want it to be over. Think about what you do when your boss, parent, or spouse starts lecturing and telling you what to do….you just tune them out and wait for it to be done..OR you may start yelling back. When we lecture our child, we usually do it abstractly. We start rambling about all these scenarios that “could” happen like, “If you do this, then this may happen and this could happen, etc.,etc.”….and we lose the child. I find myself doing this with my 9 and 6 year olds sometimes and catch myself almost laughing in the moment because they look at me with this glazed over look like, “Mom, what are you talking about???” You need to use concrete examples and keep things simple. You have to realize that as adults we have experienced things that our children can’t even comprehend because they haven’t gone through it. You lecturing them about the consequences of drinking and driving, having unprotected sex, or failing an exam will not scare them into being good kids. You need to advise and guide them. You need to educate them the best you can and then let them go. It’s the only way they can learn.
Set Boundaries and Don’t Back Down
One of the best ways to teach your teenager good behavior is by focusing on your own. Are you following through with discipline and structure? If you are yelling at your child, you are teaching them nothing about responsibility and consequences. If you want them to learn responsibility you need to set rules, expectations, and follow through. Here is an example: Let’s say your teenager doesn’t make it home before curfew and they didn’t call to let you know. Instead of yelling and lecturing them when they get home…set a boundary and stick to it. Use this statement: “When you _______, I feel________. The next time you_______, I will ___________.” So as the parent I would say, “When you don’t call me and come home late, I feel anxious and worried. The next time you don’t call and don’t make it home by curfew, I will take away your phone and you can not go out next weekend. I love you and I just want to make sure you are safe.” AND THEN STICK TO IT! DONE! No lecture, no yelling…just compassion, concern, and criteria.
Recognize and Reward
So often, we only focus on the bad behavior. If you want to see more good behavior…recognize it and reward it. Even if it is as simple as them picking up their room or cleaning and putting away dishes. The more and more you say, “Hey thanks for doing that”, the more they will do it. Recognition reinforces good behavior. Think about how good it feels to have someone say thank you or recognize something you do. This is the easiest and simplest way to get more and more good stuff.
Let Love Win
This is my motto for everything. Always, always let love win. If you are not in a calm state – do NOT talk about anything. Walk away, reset, and return in a loving place. Your job as a parent is to teach love. You do this by always holding a place of love, safety, and compassion. Yes, we will lose our cool now and then. We all do and that is okay. Use that as an opportunity to teach your child by admitting your behavior was wrong and how you could respond differently. Our emotions can get the best of us and the key to it all is to see that our anger and frustrations are all based on love. That is the hardest thing for people to realize is that we don’t purposely hurt people – especially family. When we yell at our kids, it is not because we don’t like them – it’s because we LOVE them (BUT, we should do our best not to yell)! So the more and more we can let go and realize that we are all on the same journey of trying to be happy, the easier this can be. We have different paths, different priorities, and different perspectives. There is so much learning and loving that can happen when we just let go!