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The Informed Parent

Effective Communication With Your Teen, Part 2

by Sandra Smith, Ph.D.
Published on Nov. 26, 2012

How do I tell my teen how I feel, after I’ve listened to how she feels?

After you have truly listened and understood your teen, you should feel free to tell him what you think and feel. It is best to address your feelings as directly as possible, without sermonizing or lecturing. A good beginning is always, “When you said (did) that, I felt _________” or “I feel hurt (angry, belittled, unappreciated) when you _______.” Avoid long discussions of “how it was” when you were a teen--this is another surefire, abrupt end to adult-teen communication.

When I must discipline, is there a “better” way?

Yes! Start by contrasting the unacceptable aspects of your teen’s behavior with what you consider to be his desirable qualities. If your comments begin with good news, it tends to facilitate your teen’s ability to hear you. Consider this contrast: “You know, Gayle Marie, I have been consistently impressed over the years by how well you treat others. I think that is why I was so surprised by what you said to your sister” versus, “You are so self-centered I cannot believe it. How could you treat your sister that way?” Teens feel proud and are much more likely to communicate when they believe that their parents also recognize their good and admirable qualities. 

When there is a serious problem with my teen, who else in the family should know?

Your child’s other parent, or your mate; not siblings or even more distant relatives. Respectful communication with your teen requires that you treat the information he has shared with you with the utmost dignity and respect. Just be certain that your teen understands that you will not keep information “secret” from your spouse. Collusions and secrecy are hallmarks of the dysfunctional family. It is always okay to let your teen be the one to tell the other parent. If he refuses to do so, let him know that you will tell your spouse what you have learned--and that the teen must be present for the telling.

Some Final Thoughts

You are probably doing better than you think!

Try to remember to give your teen some distance--to not be overly invasive--and to thereby encourage the normal struggle toward greater autonomy and, ultimately, independence. Most importantly--remember, it is not important that you know everything. In truth, none of us wants to feel “stripped bare” of all of our secrets, teenagers least of all!

If another parent is available, communicate with him or her!

As your teen moves through her adolescence, you will experience a number of changes yourself. For instance, happiness but also fear, sadness and a sense of loss may ensue as you come to terms with your teen’s growing independence. A parent’s ability to share these feelings and transitions with another allows the sadness, fear and sense of loss to diminish as appropriate feelings of happiness and pride increase. If your child’s other biological parent is not available, find a trusted mate, friend, or perhaps even one of your own parents to communicate openly about your feelings.

The goal is a set of values your teen can take with him into the world.

Open communication with your teen should result in a mutual understanding--the parent understands the teen, and the teen understands the parent. For parents, the goal is that of imparting a set of values to your teen--values which he or she can take forward into the world. Along these lines, the development of clear “limits” by which the teen can successfully navigate adolescence is critical. Before the teen is ready to leave her nuclear family, she hopefully has the ability to impose self-limits to meet the challenges of adult life. 

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