Getting Past The Communication Barrier with Your Teen

Getting Past The Communication Barrier with Your Teen

You’re treating me like a little kid” he said, cutting me off from what I was saying.the communication gap with teens

Internal eye roll. “I hate this age.” I said to myself.

Instead of spewing those words at my eighteen year old, I took a deep breath and told myself, “It’s the age. Get past it. Respond calmly.”

The internal dialog I had with myself could be from any stage of adolescence. I’ve heard myself saying “I hate this age” often as I’ve been raising tweens, teenagers, and young adults.  From thirteen year-olds to college-age kids, there are moments where my insides turn to a slow boil as I try to communicate with a child who isn’t hearing me.

Communicating with teens is a tricky thing to learn. I’ve learned the hard way.  My firstborn and I crashed and burned during her teen years as we tried to communicate. Power-struggles, yelling, fighting and ultimatums were our patterns.  It took an intentional commitment to change unhealthy patterns in our relationship for us to realize we both just wanted to be heard and understood.

That’s the key in communicating with your tween, teen, or young adult – realizing you both want to feel heard and understood.  So how do you do that?

Some things to do in communicating with your teen include:

  • Acknowledging teens naturally don’t say things the way adults do. They have a lot of emotion and hormones controlling their heart, mind and mouth.
  • Understanding teens don’t think the way adults do. It took me a long time to realize my daughter really didn’t understand my perspective. Now at twenty-something, she has a broader range of experiences and life lessons that allow her to listen and appreciate what I tell her.  At fourteen, she saw things one way and I needed to work more at understanding her rather than expecting her to understand me.
  • Asking yourself what your child is really trying to say. Saying “I hate you” may be how they feel in the moment.  What they’re really trying to say is “I need you to hear and understand me.” When my son said, “You’re treating me like a child” he was really saying he’s tired of me telling him what to do.  He was days from leaving for college. When I understood he was irritated and ready to be on his own, I was able to reframe the conversation and we were able to talk to each other instead of fight.
  • Being firm when confronting disrespectful and inappropriate language while giving grace as needed. If your child is under duress, stress, or has external reasons for engaging disrespectfully, try to show them you understand those factors while still holding them accountable for disrespectful or inappropriate behavior.  Powerful, yet unemotional words to use when confronting rebellious or disrespectful talk are “inappropriate” and “unacceptable.” They get the point across without attacking your child.
  • Be willing to ask for forgiveness when you’ve responded inappropriately. This was a primary factor in rebuilding better communication with my firstborn. Though I wanted to explain the reasons why I responded in anger or hurtful ways, I could only be responsible for my behavior. After humbling moments of asking for forgiveness, we’ve learned the key to good communication is forgiving and asking for forgiveness when appropriate.

When Communicating with Your Teen:

  • Don’t make a big deal out of small things.  Choose your battles.  If the behavior is the primary factor in the conflict, then talk about the behavior. Fighting over who said what is not a good battle to choose.
  • Don’t talk about important things over text messaging or email. This invites miscommunication and misunderstanding. If something seriously needs to be talked about with your child, wait until you can do it in person.
  • Don’t expect your child to be you.  You may communicate best by talking and processing things one way but your child might communicate differently.  Don’t make your way of doing things an expectation for your child.  Observe how they communicate, then approach them in ways they feel comfortable with.
  • Don’t fight in front of siblings or ask siblings to choose sides. This is easier said than done. When at all possible, talk to your child in private.
  • Don’t expect more from your teen than they can give. They aren’t adults yet.  Their brains are still forming even though they look and act like adults.  They don’t process things like we do, but they are learning what you model.  As you model better communication, it will eventually take root.

A friend once told me even though my teen was pushing me away, she still needed me. That was the wake-up call I needed to push through my own emotions so I could get to the heart of my child. It takes work, practice, self-discipline and humility in communicating well with teens. But it’s all worth it.

How about you?  What have been helpful ways you’ve found in communicating with your kids from ten to twenty?

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Brenda has a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a BA in education. She's a speaker, freelance writer, author, counselor and teacher who's spent two decades working with and raising teenagers. She's a mom of four, from middle school to young adult, and lives with her family on a farm in Indiana. She writes about life, faith, and parenting beyond the storybook image at Life Beyond the Picket Fence at brendayoder.com.

Brenda Yoder

Brenda has a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a BA in education. She's a speaker, freelance writer, author, counselor and teacher who's spent two decades working with and raising teenagers. She's a mom of four, from middle school to young adult, and lives with her family on a farm in Indiana. She writes about life, faith, and parenting beyond the storybook image at Life Beyond the Picket Fence at brendayoder.com.

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