The Teen Years: A Time of Great Growth and Development Along with Increased Conflict
The teen years are a time of great brain development in which they are learning self-control and self-regulation skills. Oftentimes, they are not yet skilled in the ability to take other’s points of view, are still developing critical thinking skills, and don’t have the same level of life experiences as mature adults. This period can bring about conflict between teens and their parents/caregivers when trying to connect and communicate. To build that communication “muscle,” it takes time and practice to strengthen it. It’s worth learning these skills as they can bring about benefits such as decreasing frustration for both of you, reducing conflict when talking, decreasing avoidance of interacting with and speaking to you, strengthening relationships, feeling seen and heard, and creating a skill set you and your teen can use outside the home to problem-solve and reduce conflict. However, you may be making mistakes you are not even aware of that shut down conversations and decrease connectedness. Below are ten common mistakes parents make in communicating with their teen.
- Talking More than Listening
Lectures rarely work and typically teens tune them out. Setting an agenda for a “talk” seldomly succeeds in sparking conversation. Discussion and negotiation lead to the best outcomes. The most important thing a parent or caregiver can do is to listen intently, ask open-ended questions to aid your teen in exploring reasons behind what they’re feeling or thinking, and allow them to problem solve. Keep the talking to a minimum to focus on understanding their point of view and the emotions behind it.
- Negative Expressions
The way we speak to teens may bring about outcomes we want to avoid. Language oftentimes reflects our fears and assumptions and comes across negatively. From a teen’s perspective, it has the feeling of nagging and authoritarianism, causing negative behaviors to be the result. At all costs, avoid interrogation. Focus on positive forms of expression and use praise and affirmation to reinforce positive behavioral expectations.
- Minimizing Their Problems, Thoughts, Feelings and/or Ideas
The perception of teens is different than adults due to brain development and lived experiences. Teens are oftentimes not yet skilled in taking on other’s points of view and don’t have the same life experience as adults to understand situations. Teens have big ideas and emotions that may not be well thought out or realistic. While something may seem unimportant to you, it can be a major life issue for your teen. If your teen feels dismissed or that you consider their point of view as unimportant, that may translate to “I am unimportant.” While your adult perspective may be more realistic, minimizing the significance of your teen’s issue can lead to feeling misunderstood and isolated. Discussion is shut down and your teen may question going to you again about important concerns.
- Not Adjusting Expectations
It can be challenging to teens if their parent or caregiver doesn’t recognize they are growing up and developing into young adults. Parents and caregivers may have in their head, an idea or image of them being younger than they really are. Teens are typically looking to take on more responsibilities and looking to establish more independence from you. Teens are learning self-control and self-regulation and boundaries and rules need to acknowledge their age or ability for responsible behaviors. If you don’t recognize these potential frustrations for your teen, it can lead to conflict. Be open to compromising and negotiating rules and boundaries to reflect growth.
- Fighting the Wrong Battles
Don’t engage in power battles with your teen. The teen years are oftentimes a period of increased conflict, but don’t choose battles that aren’t worth it. Of course, there will be issues on which parents and/or caregivers should stand firm to protect their teen’s health, safety, and wellbeing. If there are conflicts that have room for negotiation with your teen and can reduce conflict, be open to compromise. In doing so, you will teach and model good techniques for problem-solving and increase their conflict resolution skills.
- Blaming Your Teen
If your teen comes to you with an issue, avoid blaming them for it. Focusing on them being the cause or their problems will alienate your teen and end the conversation shortly. Also, avoid explaining or justifying another’s behaviors in that situation. Listen and allow them to express their feelings. Ask open-ended questions to allow your teen to gain perspective about the problem. Communicate their strengths and things that are going well to reinforce positive problem-solving and behaviors.
- Quick to Show or Express Judgment
If your teen perceives you’re disapproving, they will shut down conversation quickly. It may be difficult to practice when you have your own thoughts and feelings, but try staying calm, and listening to and understanding your teen’s thoughts before speaking. Avoid using “you” statements that come across as negative and judgmental. “You” statements breed defensiveness. Instead, use “I” statements to communicate what you’re thinking and feeling without blaming your teen.
- “Fixing the Problem”
It may be your parental instinct to solve the problem for your teen, but it can be counterproductive. Have empathy, but don’t overidentify with your teen and make it your problem to resolve. Intervening to “fix it,” can cause teens to believe they can’t solve their problems and your efforts at resolution are controlling. Also, be careful with asking too many questions or giving unsolicited feedback. Allow your teens to express their feelings and help them with brainstorming possible solutions, from which they will choose. Teaching and modeling critical thinking skills will set up your teen to feel empowered to deal with future problems.
- Being Disrespectful to Your Teen
Avoid coming across as disrespectful to your teen as it can kill a conversation immediately. Keep in mind the content and tone of how you’re speaking as well as demeanor. Display respect towards your teen to get it in return and welcome disagreement as inviting talk on an issue. If your teen is disrespectful, avoid taking it personally as you represent “another authority figure” to them and approach them later using “I” statements to talk about how their lack of respect impacted you. Take the opportunity to teach and model treating people respectfully when having a discussion.
Things to Avoid:
- Raising your voice, yelling, and/or shouting
- Making sarcastic or negative comments
- Disapproving verbal or body language
- Criticizing and/or blaming
- Refusing to compromise or negotiate
- Interrupting or cutting off your teen
- Multitasking when speaking
- Speaking to your teen like a child
- Violating privacy
Forcing Teens to Have a Conversation on Your Timetable
Most teens tend to be open when they feel like it, rather than it being a convenient time for a parent or caregiver. It’s unlikely a teen will schedule a conversation, rather it will happen spontaneously. Typically, conversations may occur during car rides, dinner time, or in the evenings. Even though it might not be the best time, avoid dismissing or treating it as if it’s a chore or obligation to complete. Your teen may shut down and end the conversation right there. It may need to happen later as time allows but be sure to be present and focused on the importance to your teen and set a mutually agreed upon time. The best conversations are when your teen reaches out to have a conversation when they want to talk, and you make the time for them. Remember to keep the lecturing in check.
I hope that this information on connecting to and communicating with your teen is helpful. Please be on the lookout for our next blog in April about how to manage when caregiving gets hard.
For more information on Small Town Counseling services for teens, what to expect, and/or scheduling an appointment check out our Teen Counseling Services or call 209-968-1707. FAQs and Parenting Topics are available in our Good Reads! For additional parenting resources visit COVID-19 Specific Parenting Resources or Local Resources.
10 Common Mistakes Parents Make in Connecting to and Communicating with Their Teens is written by David Cayton, M.A, M.S.. David has experience as a mental health professional working with children, teens, and professionals, an academic advisor, education-based research assistant, and student affairs at colleges and universities. At the time of this publishing, David Cayton is Trainer and Research Associate at Small Town Counseling® a group mental health practice located in California that helps individuals, groups, and organizations in promoting mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training.
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Price, A. (2019, September 30). 10 Mistakes Parents of Teens Need to Avoid. Avoid These Pitfalls in Order to Better Get Along with Your Teen. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-unmotivated-teen/201909/10-mistakes-parents-teens-need-avoid