By Erica Rood, MA Ed.
More and more, teens are turning to friends and social media for support. While peers can offer sympathy and encouragement, they are not capable of providing sound and mature counsel. Teens need their parents to remain a steady and central part of their support system. In order to do so, parents need an effective way of connecting with their teens. These essential questions will help guide you toward more successful, teen-appreciated communication.
- How present are you? When your teen starts to tell you about her day or share a story about a friend, do you face her, look her in the eye, and stop what you are doing to really pay attention? Teens pick up on the smallest of social cues. Your attention demonstrates your availability and interest, which she will recognize as support. The next time she starts to talk, put down your phone, walk away from your computer, and give her your undivided attention. Show her that you honor and value her choice to open up to you.
- How do you listen? Do you fire away questions? Take her sharing a story as a cue to reminisce on your teen experiences? Or, do you really drop in and imagine what it is like to be her, walk in her shoes, and experience all that she experiences? Deep, meaningful listening involves empathizing, understanding, and connecting. When you listen on this level, you don’t offer explanations, solutions, or opinions, but instead, you honor her unique perspective, support her ability to problem solve, and encourage her to deepen her understanding of herself and others.
- Do you validate her experiences, feelings, and opinions? Whether or not you consider it irrational or outrageous, everything your teen is going through is real and serious to her. When you listen, reflect, and ask what support she needs, she knows you care and understand, and she will be more likely to open up even more. On the flip side, when you minimize or ridicule her experiences, she is more likely to react with rebellion, yelling, and door slamming.
- Do you allow her to practice her assertive skills…. on you? By the time she enters the teen years, your daughter has figured out that adults regularly enforce arbitrary rules. This is one reason why she will start to question and defy what you say. Instead of losing your temper, seize this as an opportunity to teach her a valuable life-skill: How to evaluate authority figures and make thoughtful choices about when to contend and when to resist. This means having honest, calm, and frank conversations about the rules, offering reasonable explanation, acknowledging her perspective, and sometimes, engaging in negotiation.
- Do you see conflicts as an opportunity to foster emotional intelligence? Teenagers use parents as dumping grounds for feelings. When your daughter starts to unload the stresses of her day, remember that she is taking advantage of a reliable support system and she is dealing with her stress in a wise, healthy way. When she vents, listen with an open heart, help her understand what certain feelings reveal and what she can do to honor and care for herself. For example, negative feelings about a friend may indicate the relationship isn’t aligned with her values and it’s time to let go. Sadness or anxiety about a situation may be a signal to step away, reset, or share her concern.
Always remember, no matter how much your teen relies on friends or social media, she wants and needs you to provide authentic guidance and loving support.