“Nicholeen, I can’t seem to correct my 16 year old son without him getting upset. He rolls his eyes and looks away from me. He just seems to have a wall surrounding him that none of us can penetrate. I know I am not the calmest parent either, but there must be something I can say to get his attention or something. What do you suggest?”
I want you to know that you are not alone. This is a common problem now days with teenage children. People often debate why this happens. (That would be another article.) One common cause is the teenager sees you as a burden. I know that sounds horrible. However, it is true for many teens. Their parents just don’t seem to “get it” like their friends at school do. They start to distance themselves from parents because this is the time they take more responsibility for their lives, and a time when parents aren’t part of a large percentage of their day to day lives.
The distance is similar to a married couple who do different things all day and never talk about what they do with each other. Not a good pattern for relationship building.
Of course there are also a variety of other reasons your teenaged child may not be communicating well with you. So, what do we do about it?
First, you must have the Spirit when you talk to your child. It is the Spirit which will change the heart of the child and teach him to trust you and connect with you.
As you speak with your child, say less. No lectures! Lectures ruin a relationship and are never listened to anyway. After about 30 seconds of talking, your child turns off. So, the ideal is to only talk for 30 seconds, or less. Choose your words carefully and say them with the Spirit. If you say less, the Spirit can say more.
Second, really understand. We all assume way too much in relationships. Even if something seems like it is happening again and again, look at it with fresh eyes and try to see why the child cares about the issue, or why the problem keeps occurring.
Don’t take stuff so personally. Their growing pains and mistakes are going to happen from time to time even if you can somehow figure out how to be completely perfect. Allow yourself to forgive past wrongs and listen to what they have to say. If you set parameters for your communication session, such as no one can talk unless they use a calm voice, then you will keep yourself focusing on listening more and reacting less.
Another thing to remember about understanding, is don’t think you know what they think. Sometimes their body communications are not a true representation to what they are thinking. They actually listen to more than you think. Trust in that. Even when they are not looking at you, they are listening to what you have to say if you keep it short and powerful.
Finally, be direct but not rude. Passive questioning will not strengthen your relationship or increase respect. It will only make you look week and not worth their time. Get to the point. Ask direct
questions with the spirit of understanding and acceptance. They should feel that no matter what they say, it is safe with you. You will not preach too much or over-react. This doesn’t mean you don’t teach them what is right, you just do it in a more direct and unified way.
This is NOT the way to talk to youth: “So, I’ve noticed you’re mad all the time lately. I hate seeing you so upset. There isn’t something wrong, is there?” nor “Your chore was the bathroom, but you seem like you don’t want to do it. I think you may have a problem with following through with chores. We need to do something about it. When are you going to get it done?”
This is a more assertive, direct way to talk to youth: “You are not happy. I feel it. Let’s talk about it.” or “I noticed your chore isn’t done. Part of following instructions is doing the task immediately. I need you to go finish your chore.”
Other statements which could be helpful in various situations:
“I notice that you spend a lot of time with Becky. Have you kissed her yet?”
“Your brothers really look up to you. They will think you are so cool if you take a bit more time to really connect with them. What you do, they will do.”
“You are looking away from me. This tells me that you don’t feel connected to me right now. How come?”
For years I have heard people complain about how hard teenagers are to communicate with. It really is a difficult phase to completely understand. Especially because each new generation of youth is faced with new, unique social and technological challenges.
Luckily, the rules of communication don’t really ever change. A family with a healthy communication foundation can usually go through the teen years without getting too many relationship bumps and bruises.
Nicholeen, good advice, especially about having direct, short conversations and not lecturing. The not lecturing part is sometimes tough.
Love the 30-second advice. Very wise.
As hokey as it sounds when one says it, reflective listening really works with our kids, too. (It sounds like you are saying …)
I have learned through my own sad experience it is way better to walk away than to raise my voice. (Of course it’s even better not to raise my voice in the first place, but I’m not perfect yet.)