As teens get older, they spend more time away from their families and are easily influenced by classmates, teammates, and media consumption. Combined with the fact that the brain is not fully developed until age 25, these influences can often encourage teens to make impulsive decisions and participate in risky behavior. These positive or negative choices can start to have a long-term impact on teenagers. These are just the start of why open communication with your teen is critical. So how do you do that when their hand is stuck to their cell phone, and they act like you are their worst enemy?
Give your teen a space to talk openly and be heard. When they are open and sharing about their day, just let them speak and do not interrupt or give unsolicited advice. Sometimes teens just want to be heard, and lending them an ear and nothing else, opens the line of communication with your teen for them to continue to share with you. If they are sharing about difficulties, after listening, you can ask them if they just needed to vent (and remind them that’s okay) or ask if they would like your opinion on finding a solution. If they say no, they do not want your opinion, respect that! By showing them you value what they have to say, they are more likely to be open with you as time goes on.
Your teen may seem too cool to want to hear that you are proud of them but do it anyway. Remember how you would clap with joy and say what a good, smart baby they were when they learned to roll over, say their first words, or finish their peas? Look at them as that same tiny, brilliant baby reaching each milestone and praise them for making good choices and overcoming difficult tasks. Seek out ways to positively praise your teen, and they will feel encouraged and have increased self-confidence, even if they don’t seem like they want to hear it.
Model Appropriate Reactions
If you feel you are getting escalated by what they want to tell you or think you may react, ask for a break. Tell your teen that you value them being open and communicating with you and that you need time to think about what they told you and come up with your response. Keeping your cool and modeling how you should react will help your teen learn appropriate reactions during intense communication and help them to become a healthy adult. It will also allow them to see that they can communicate openly with you without getting an adverse reaction.
Try I Statements
Using I statements is a great way to communicate while avoiding conflict. Teens hear many negative things throughout the day, so hearing what they did wrong from their parents will not be received well. If turned into an I statement, it puts the feelings back on you as the parent while still explaining yourself. To create an I statement, try stating how you feel, why you think it, and what a better outcome would be. For example, if your teen is spending family dinner scrolling through TikTok, you could say, “I feel disrespected when you are on your phone during dinner because it is a time for our family to spend time together. I would prefer it if you leave your phone in your room during dinner, and then you can spend fifteen minutes on it before you start studying”: Using I statements will model positive conflict resolution to your teen as well!
Remember That You Are Their Parent
Sometimes the communication you have with your teen will lead you to learn that they are struggling with the pressures of society. There comes a time when the lines of communication need to be crossed to find additional support for your teen. If they are struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm, or substance abuse, do not be afraid to seek help. There are many options for outpatient therapy services, boys and girls residential treatment programs, and other resources with a quick Google search or calling your teen’s primary care provider. It can be easy to fall into patterns of letting your teen take the lead with communication, but remember that what you model for them now will form their communication habits.