As a high school English teacher, Tim Johnson uses back to school night to talk with parents about some common behaviors going on with teenagers. He tells parents that if their teen isn't pushing up against them and their rules, then they aren't doing it right. Striving for independence is a hallmark of adolescence. This very normal stage in development can lead to conflict and a breakdown in communication that leaves both teen and parent upset and bewildered.
Understanding Teen Development
Aside from a need for autonomy and independence, the teen years are marked by a desire to spend more time with friends, cognitive development leading to abstract thinking and reasoning skills, significant physical and hormonal changes and a growing interest in sexuality. This whirlwind of growth and change leads to intense feelings that seem to shift constantly. For parents, understanding these myriad changes can feel like navigating through a complicated maze. Considering the behaviors that result helps parents in teaching valuable lessons and finding ways to keep the lines of communication open.
Listening and Asking Questions
Listening and asking questions are two particularly recommended tools in effectively communicating with teens. Parents of adolescents commonly hear, "You never listen." Teenagers seeking independence want the respect of being heard and they want to know their opinion matters -- even when their parent disagrees with them. Asking questions when talking with your teen gives her the chance to explain her views and models honest, open conversation. Teens don't always respond immediately, but that doesn't mean they aren't listening to you and learning through your example.
"Pick your battles" is a piece of advice parents hear over and over, with good reason. As teens explore who they are and their values, some will experiment with different styles of dress and even extreme hairstyles in an attempt to shock you. Decide what you can live with, understand that most phases don't last long and the need for self-expression is part of adolescence. When it is time to provide some guidance and set rules, include your teen in the conversation about what the rules should look like. You will ultimately make the decisions, but these steps will allow your teen to share in the process.
Finding Time to Talk
Everyone seems to have increasingly hectic schedules. Finding time just to catch up on daily events can be challenging. Remember that if something important has come up for your teen, he may feel shy about speaking up in fear of judgement or criticism. Questions about friends' activities or dilemmas, questions about your teenage experiences or mention of school studies or current news could signal that your teen has something on his mind. Time spent in the car can be an ideal opportunity for conversation. The talk will last just for the length of the car ride and you don't have to look right at each other. These factors can help free your teen up to talk.