Thursday, September 30, 2010

Talking with Teens

In talking with the mom of a teenage girl today, I was reminded of the importance of two things in the relationship between parent and teenager: the language used and the practice of turning agenda-driven discussions into open conversations. Here are some simple things to keep in mind to create peace in your home and to stay connected with your teen as she traverses these turbulent years:


When speaking with your teen, put things on the table. If you think your son has been less than truthful with you, let him know what you know to be true rather than attempting to catch him in a lie. If he said he was at a friend’s house and you know that he wasn’t, avoid saying, “How was your visit with your friend?” Instead, say, “I spoke with Mark’s mother today and I know that you were not there. Let’s talk about what happened.” If you don’t think your daughter has completed her science project, avoid skirting the issue with questions that will probably imply mistrust. Instead, use an I-statement to dispel her defensiveness and to voice your feelings. For example, “I feel uncomfortable because your science project is due next Friday and I haven’t seen you working on it. How is it going, and can I help in any way?”


Use “and” as your conjunction rather than “but.” When you say to your teen, “I love you but I am not willing for you to spend the night at Julie’s house”, she will not hear the “I love you.” People tend to ignore the words that come before the “but”. Simply rephrasing the statement by substituting “and” for “but” will keep the “I love you” in the conversation and in her heart.


Some big issues for parents of teens and for teens themselves are school success, love relationships, drugs and alcohol, and relationships with friends. By having conversations about these big ticket items, you keep the door open for connected communication. As you let go during the teen years, you can embrace being your child’s ally. The one item that distinguishes a conversation from a lecture is an agenda. If you are promoting your agenda rather than seeking understanding, it is a lecture. A conversation means that both you and your teen have a space to voice feelings and desires. What do you want? What does she want? What are your boundaries and limits? What are hers? The more “conversational” the discussion, the more empowered and invested your teen will be. The more of an ally you will be. The more connected you both will be.

And did I say listen?

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