Opening Communication Between Parents and Teens, Part 1
- Friday, March 10, 2000
Mother: "Hi hon, how was your day?"
Daughter: [angrily slinging book bag onto couch] "Great, just great."
Mother: "Don't talk to me like that. What's the matter?"
Daughter: [rolling her eyes] "There's nothing to tell."
Mother: "Of course there is or you wouldn't be sulking around like that."
Daughter: "Whatever." [stalks into bedroom and loudly closes door].
Unfortunately, scripts like this are played out in tens of thousands of homes every day. An invisible barrier often separates parents and teens. As one parent said, "My son is so angry, but nothing I do seems to break the ice."
Proverbs 18:20-21 says "The tongue has the power of life and death." Positive communication patterns are words of life which allow children to excel in relationships with their peers, teachers and bosses.
Negative communication patterns, on the other hand, are words of death which lead to rejection by peers, emotional disturbances, low achievement and delinquency.
Has communication with your teen taken a turn for the worse? If so, consider these timeless "rules" which can restore family harmony by helping you and your teen verbalize in positive ways.
Rule #1: Mind your manners
Often teens and parents reserve their most cruel words for each other. When interacting with your teen, treat her with the same politeness you would treat your best friend, and insist that she does likewise.
Difficulty in a relationship is no excuse for mistreating others. Here are two aspects of manners which are particularly important for parent-teen relationships.
1) Keep your teen's confidences. I once witnessed the humiliation a teenage boy experienced as his mother carried on about his "attitude problem" in front of her friends. You wouldn't gossip about your best friend's problems, so don't gossip about your teen's. Instead, tell him, "I don't keep anything from your dad (or mom), but besides that, you can trust me to not embarrass you by sharing it with others."
2) Treat your teen with respect. Don't talk down to her or act as if she is a nuisance. Even when you disagree, it is not necessary to speak loudly or more intensely in order to communicate clearly. At the same time, make it clear to your teen that respect is a two way street; insist that she treat others with respect even when she doesn't feel like it.
Rule #2: Fight Fair
Harshly spoken words are like body blows which cause serious injuries to family relationships. Here are some communication rules which will help you and your teen constructively handle conflict without hitting below the belt:
1) Ask permission to be heard: gain the other person's assent before expressing your feelings. For instance, when you are feeling resentment from your teen, say "There is something important I would like to talk about regarding our relationship. Can we talk about that now?"
2) Stay in the here and now: when there is a disagreement, make unrelated topics or past grievances off limits.
3) Don't blame: take responsibility for your language by using "I" statements. Instead of saying "You make me so angry," say "I felt very angry when you did that."
4) No interrupting: each person should have the opportunity to express his feelings without being cut off.
In order for these rules to work, family members must be willing to enforce them in conflict situations. If your teen feels that you are cutting her off, encourage her to say, "I feel very frustrated that you are cutting me off. Please allow me to finish what I am saying before you respond."
Editor's Note: Next week we will post Jeff's rules 3-5.
COPYRIGHT 1999 BY JEFFREY L. MYERS, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. To learn more about Dr. Myers and his ministry, check out his web site Inspired Leadership.
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