Have you ever struggled to talk with your teenager? For some people, the answer to this question might be, “Every day.”

Teens can be difficult to talk to, especially when you are trying to have a parenting moment. Let’s look at some ways that you can be a more effective communicator with your teen.

When you have a serious conversation with your teen, be intentional to monitor your tone and volume. Sometimes it can be hard to control your frustration, especially if your teen gets angry also, but you’ll never walk away from a yelling match with your child thinking that you successfully got your point across.

Many teens rarely want to have serious conversations with their parents. When they are forced into one, they often tend to be rude or hostile. They bring up arguments that are tangentially related to the original topic, deflect by talking about how so-and-so’s parents aren’t like this or point out why their parents are hypocrites for expecting their children to do things that they don’t even do themselves. Do your best to remain calm and bring them back to the point of the conversation if it begins to morph into something else.

Remember that you as the parent control the way that the conversation goes, but only if you pay special attention to your tone.

While you can’t control teens and keep them from getting angry, you can control yourself. If you and your teen frequently get into yelling matches, start working on changing how you talk with your child, immediately. Stop yelling at your teen, even if your child is yelling at you.

It might feel like you are allowing your child to get away with being disrespectful at first, but if you can control your volume, your teen will eventually stop yelling as well. If your child continues to scream and yell, stop talking until your teen calms down.

If your child frequently ignores your questions or says things such as “I don’t know” when you question why your teen did something, consider changing your tactics. Teens will often use this dreaded statement as a way to avoid answering tough questions about their motives. Instead of trying to come to a deeper level of understanding of why your children acted the way they did, tell them the consequences for their action.

For example, if your teen didn’t do homework and told you, “I don’t know why I didn’t do it,” don’t badger your teen into an explanation. Rather, give say a direct statement such as, “Well, because you didn’t do your homework, you’ll now have a consequence.”

Parents frequently get stuck on trying to figure out why their children are acting this way. Often, there isn’t this deeper, under-the-surface reasoning for their behavior. When you ask why, you are opening yourself up to a potentially frustrating conversation because it gives your teen the power to tell you the answer or withhold it.

Perhaps most importantly, practice listening to your teen in the everyday moments. Teens respond and open up to people who they think care about them. This is why they can feel so strongly connected to people who they only talk with through social media.

If you listen to your teen and practice validating what your teen is feeling in the small moments, the likelihood that you can have a productive conversation in a hard situation goes up drastically.

So even if you don’t care about who your children’s current favorite YouTube star is or what video games they’re playing, take the time to ask about what interests them. Even the most difficult teen to talk to can open up if you start asking them about the things they like.

By engaging in their world during the good times, the chances that they’ll talk with you when you do need to ask the hard questions dramatically increases.

• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to mmccray@wpcgreenwood.org.

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