As your child progresses through various phases of development, the most marked changes are those experienced during adolescence. The brain is under major reconstruction, which means lots of fluctuation in your teen's thoughts and feelings, says clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University Hospital, Robert J. Hedaya, M.D with "Psychology Today." According to Dr. Hedaya, this is all accompanied by your teen's increasing need to express her personal autonomy and obtain independence. With all of these changes, it may seem nearly impossible to effectively communicate with your teen, especially during conflicts. With a few tools for effective communication under your belt, however, you will be able to survive this complex phase of your child's development.
It will be important for you and your teen to ensure that your emotions are regulated when it's time to communicate with one another. It's easy for parents and teens to have their thoughts lost in translation due to stress and tension within the relationship, particularly during times of conflict. Health experts at Help Guide--a nonprofit, online mental health resource--add that stress interferes with effective communication by disrupting your capacity for clear thinking and taking appropriate actions. Help Guide experts suggest that you and your teen take a moment to calm yourselves if you are experiencing stress while conversing with one another or engaged in conflict. Take a few deep breaths, or even postpone the conversation until a later time when each of you is calm and ready to talk coolly and rationally.
Active listening is an important communication skill that takes practice to develop. According to Help Guide experts, It involves not only understanding what your teen is saying, but also understanding how your teen feels about what she's saying. One way to ensure that you understand how your teen feels about something she's expressing to you is to reflect her feelings back to her. After she's finished speaking, for example, clarify her statements by asking, "so, what you're saying is that you felt angry when I wrongfully accused you of hanging out with so-and-so, is that correct?" This shows your teen you've been listening to her, and understand how she feels. Additional components of active listening include not interrupting the person speaking, avoiding judgment, blame or criticism, and giving nonverbal cues of active listening, such as head nods and direct eye contact.
Another important tool to use when trying to effectively communicate with your teen is flexibility. Try not to discredit your teen's opinions, but encourage her to honestly and openly communicate with you, recommends Shannon L. Sachs with the Ohio State University Extension, a continuing education initiative. You may not agree with her views and opinions on certain matters -- and it's okay to disagree -- but diminishing your teen's ideas will decrease the likelihood that she'll openly express herself to you in the future. Sachs adds that "confirmation of an adolescent’s perspective has been linked to positive personality development," which suggests that when you acknowledge your teen's opinions and feelings, she'll feel better about herself through your validation.
Watch Unsolicited Advice
Peter Gray, Ph.D., author and research professor at Boston College, notes how many people -- parents, kids, spouses and others -- despise unsolicited advice, even from their loved ones. Gray explains that when people give unwanted advice it often undermines a person's freedom, which typically doesn't go over well. There will be times when your teen certainly needs to hear your advice, particularly when it concerns her personal interests and safety. However, your teen will be more appreciative of you advising her on which bus to take--or route to drive--when she's going to hang out with her friends, than she will be of you telling her who she should date during senior year. Gray adds that the more you refrain from giving unsolicited advice to your teen, the more likely your teen will be to solicit you for advice on her own.
- Psychology Today: Health Matters: The Teenager's Brain
- Palo Alto Medical Foundation: Eight Things to Do to Practice Better Communication for Teens
- Help Guide: Effective Communication: Improving Communication Skills in Business and Relationships
- The Ohio State University Extension: Fact Sheet: Communicating with Your Teen
- Psychology Today: Freedom to Learn: Unsolicited Advice: I Hate It, You Hate It, and so Do Your Kids
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images