Communicating with teens can be challenging especially if they are going through a rebellious period. We adults often forget how trying a time those teen years can be and can often misinterpret their attempts at communication.
For teenage girls, it can be an emotional roller coaster at warp speed and sometime you may just have to grab hold and hang on for the ride. She will not always be able to express what she’s going through so don’t try and pin her down as to what is going on. She very well might not know. Instead of talking at her, ask questions that will draw her out and let her hear her own words. Sometimes this will clarify what is going on in her mind and she may have just needed a sounding board. If she’s angry and lashes out at you, don’t take it personally. She may be frustrated at a number of given situations but taking it out on you because you are there, and you are safe. If you respond back in anger, you will no longer be that safe place for her. Of course, there are boundaries and no matter how angry she is, those boundaries of respect must not be crossed. When she calms down, then you can proceed and try to find the true source of the anger.
For teenage boys, it can be a different story. Most boys are not big talkers with parents and are trying to be independent. They may be pulling away from you because of wanting to feel grown up and ‘manly’ or because they want to be independent and handle things on their own. Sometimes this will feel like they are shutting you out. You will have to be creative in finding ways to getting them to open up without feeling pressured. Often time car rides are a good place to talk since you are in a confined area and have little distractions such as computers, TV, etc. Make sure you use that time for casual conversations, not for grilling them to find out what is going on in their lives. If these casual conversations are safe for them, you may be surprised at some of the change of directions these talks can take.
In any event, you will have to find out what is the best communication style of each individual teen since they may not necessarily have the same communication skills. Find out what works best for each one. I know that when I would encourage my teenage daughter to help me prepare dinner in the kitchen it was a good time to just start chatting while we were chopping and slicing. Now she enjoys just hanging out in the kitchen with me while I cook and chatting about her life. She also likes to hear what’s going on in my life. If I open up, she knows it’s safe for her to open up as well.
Some common mistakes that parents make in attempting to communicate with their teens is starting out with “I want to talk to you”. This is translated by them that they are in trouble and you will have shut them down from the very beginning. Try to pick a time when they are most receptive, not when they are hungry right before dinner or late at night when they are tired. Open the conversation with something like “I was thinking about ‘such and such’ situation, and I wanted to get your thoughts about it”. If the topic you need to discuss is a heavy topic, lead in with something light and then gradually head into the heavy area, don’t blast them away with a heavy topic right out the gate. Always remember to try and stay focused on the subject at hand because that may be all they can handle. Don’t jump from their messy room to unfinished homework to unseemly friends. Remember to stay focused, and they will too.
Read more at AboutTheChildren.org