From Brad Berger, author of AIM HIGH! 101 Tips For Teens
Communicating with a teenager can be a daunting task. Every teenager is different and many parents just don’t know how to reach them. Over many years of speaking with teenagers, I have developed certain techniques that make communicating easier and more effective. Here are my top 15:
- Pick your time and place. Pick the correct time and place to speak with a teen by observing him and adapting to his needs, not yours. Often, the most effective communications take place where there are minimal diversions. Many times, the best turf is home, specifically the teen’s room. (Be respectful if the door is closed and knock before entering). Be alone with the teenager so you can focus on each other. If the teen is in a terrible mood, wait. You want the teen to be focused on you and not on other things.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Look for the good. Once, when I was trying to give my son “constructive criticism” and told him so, he looked at me and said, “Criticism is criticism.” I understood what he meant. Try not to put the teen down, because this will make him angry and defensive.
- Show respect. Of course adults expect respect from a teenager when communicating. But to be respected, a person has to show respect to others. My mother taught me that it is good to let the teen speak first; it shows you are listening. Don’t interrupt; no matter how much you may disagree, let her finish speaking. You can even ask if she’s finished and if you can now speak. Again, show respect as you would to an adult. After all, the teenager is a young adult.
- Be supportive. Try not to take a position or side against the teenager. Most situations are not purely black or white. Yes, some issues allow no room for compromise. However, many issues are not concrete and allow room for exploration.
- You know that you are the boss. It is not necessary to pound this into a teen’s head. Know that you can discipline the teen if push comes to shove, so there is no need to threaten the teen when communicating. Threats cut off communication.
- Keep your cool. A teenager will attempt to push your buttons. This is how they exert control. Sometimes, when listening to a teen speak you have to ignore any words that are calculated only to get you upset. Although she may raise or her voice, you do not have to react in an equally loud voice. As a teen gets louder, it is a good technique to do the opposite and speak in a low voice; this will help diffuse the teen’s anger rather than escalate the conversation into a loud argument where you both stop listening.
- Show empathy. We were all teenagers, and with the fun there was misery. Try to identify with the teen’s situation and feelings as you listen.
- Avoid rude words. If the teenager starts to use inappropriate words, simply ask him to please not use rude words. Teens usually use a rude word because they either slip and use a word they may use with their friends, or they just want to push your buttons. Again, keep your cool and don’t get into a cursing match. Use a soft tone and ask them respectfully not to use rude words.
- Listen. It is hard for an adult, let alone a teenager, to know when to stop talking and start listening. Make your point and then listen to the teen’s response. The more you talk and lecture, the more likely you are to lose the teen’s attention. You want the teen to be focused on you and what you are saying, so try to make it short and sweet.
10. Don’t belabor mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they are young. If the teenager did something wrong, tell her what she did wrong and how to deal with the situation the next time. Again, lectures lose teens. Urge her to try and not make the same mistake twice. However; if/when the same mistake is made again, use the same technique you used the first time – don’t start telling the teen how stupid she is. Remember, she already does not feel good about making the mistake again.
11. Support. Let the teen know you are there for him. You want a teen to feel that he can come and speak to you when he has a problem and you won’t pounce. Control your own emotions; you are the adult. A teenager has to feel comfortable talking to you. Otherwise, they won’t.
12. Let them vent. If the teenager is very angry, let them yell and scream; you can take it. As long as the teen is not violent and not hurting anything, let him get the anger out of his system.
13. You’re the adult. Always remember that you are the adult and you want to act and not react. Control your own behavior when communicating with the teenager so that they have an example of the proper way to communicate – don’t become a teenager, you’ve been there and done that.
14. Don’t underestimate humor. Try to have a sense of humor with the teenager. This is definitely difficult, but humor softens a situation. At the same time, if the situation is serious, don’t insert a joke to deflect from the issue(s) at hand.
15. Thank the teen. Let the teenager know that you appreciate them communicating with you.
To help a teenager learn how to act in school and life, have them read AIM HIGH! 101 Tips For Teens, a book written expressly for teens in the short-and-sweet style they use for IMs (instant messages) and tweets. To see sample pages of the book, go to www.aimhigh101tips.com. AIM HIGH! is sold in both English and Spanish editions exclusively at amazon.com. A free app of the book is available at the iTunes store in English, Spanish and French for iPhone, iPad and iTouch.