5 Ways Parents Can Teach Assertiveness to Teens
Many people mistakenly confuse aggressiveness with assertiveness, which is not true. Aggressiveness is behaving in a hostile way. Assertiveness is standing up for your right to be treated fairly and/or advocating for yourself in a clear, direct and honest way that is positive and proactive. It is expressing your opinions, needs, and feelings, without ignoring or hurting the opinions, needs, and feelings of others.
Assertiveness is actually one of the most positive skill sets you can encourage in a teenager for lifelong success. In fact, studies show that teens who are assertive are:
- less likely to be bullied;
- better communicators;
- less likely to act aggressively;
- more confident;
- less stressed;
- more responsible; and
- better equipped to resist peer pressure.
Despite the benefits of assertive communication, many teens don’t know how to stand up for themselves in an appropriate manner. Following are 5 ways parents can teach their teens to be assertive:
1. Teach Your Teen to Identify Feelings
Sometimes, adults can forget that self-understanding is something you have to build and develop over time. Many teens are not able to identify their feelings, which is why they act out their feelings instead of talking through them. For example, a frustrated teen might slam their door rather then explain what is bothering them.
Parents must provide their teen with a clear understanding of emotions. A teen who can identify his/her feelings can then translate that knowledge into telling other people how they are feeling and why they are experiencing those emotions in a respectful manner. Explain to your teen that other people will not automatically know what your teen needs or feels. Encourage your child to express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a specific, clear, honest and respectful way. Provide them with examples so they can better understand. “I feel angry when dad doesn’t come to my game,” is a much better expression than, “Dad makes me so mad!”
2. Explain Communication Styles
Parents should take the time to explain the three main communication styles: passive, aggressive and assertive. Ask your teen to evaluate themselves and determine which style they use most often. If they use passive or aggressive styles, ask them how they might be able to change their style to be more assertive. Provide examples if they are not sure.
Parents should also explain that the way you speak (including your body language!) has a significant impact on how effective your communication is. Offer your teen these tips to improve their communication:
- Face the other person, keep your shoulders back and chin up, and make eye contact. Have a serious facial expression, but don’t frown or appear hostile.
- Do not fidget.
- Try to avoid using fillers, such as “um,” “you know,” “uh,” and “like,” when speaking.
- Keep your voice calm and soft. You don’t need to be loud, but you do need to make yourself heard. If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, try a firm “excuse me” to get their attention. Never use a whiney or abrasive tone.
- Speak slowly. Rushing when you talk is an admission that you don’t expect people to take the time to listen.
- Be clear and specific in your explanations and direct in your requests. Your statements should be short and to the point. They should provide facts and specifics rather than vague hints. When asking someone something, don’t invite the person to dodge your question. For example, directly saying “Will you please …?” is much more effective than “Maybe you could…”
3. Teach Your Teen to Express Feelings in a Positive Way
Learning how to tell someone how you feel in a calm, positive way is a valuable skill that will help your teen improve their relationships throughout their lifetime. This skill takes practice, and teens need help from adults to learn how to speak up in a respectful way. If your teen is upset at someone, try to coach him/her through some ideas for what to say before they confront the other person. Here are ideas for parents to use to help their teen:
- If your teen tends to be aggressive, either verbally or physically, explain that name calling or pushing are completely unacceptable. Pick some real examples from when you have seen them react inappropriately to a friend or sibling and brainstorm some different ideas for how they could have handled the situation in a more appropriate way. Explain that you want them to stand up for themselves, but the way they do it must be more respectful.
- If your teen tends to be passive, try to point out some of those behaviors to him or her from real examples. If you see your teen saying, “I don’t care,” every time her friends ask her what she wants to do, have a conversation with her (later, when you’re alone) about speaking up and sharing her opinion.
- Encourage your teen to begin her sentences with “I” instead of “you” when expressing a concern to someone else. It’s a subtle difference, but makes a huge impact in communication. Messages that start with “I feel…” are better received than those that begin with “You make me…”. For example, teach your teen to say, “I feel angry when you don’t show up on time,” rather than, “You don’t care about me at all because you never show up when you say you will.”
- Advise your teen to avoid exaggerations and judgments. They should stick to the facts when they are explaining their problem. Explain that using “always” or “never” in statements backfires, because they make the other person feel too defensive to hear your viewpoint. Statements such as “you always forget to clean my clothes” or “you never want to do anything fun” are untrue and hurtful. Judgments also make people feel defensive. A fact is “your shirt has some stains on it.” A judgment is “you look sloppy.”
- Remind your teen to keep their focus on solving the problem they are having, rather than accusing or blaming the other person. Your teen shouldn’t be trying to “win” a fight, but rather work together with the other person to develop a reasonable solution to a problem.
4. Role Model Assertive Behavior
Teenagers learn best by watching others. Role modeling is a parent’s greatest influencer in their child’s life. Your teen will naturally develop assertiveness skills by watching you when you’re communicating with others. So, be sure that you are identifying your feelings (out loud to them), speaking to others directly and honestly but with respect, projecting confident body language, using “I” statements, sharing your opinion, standing firm in decisions that are important to you, and avoiding judgmental statements.
5. Praise Assertive Behavior
Reinforce your child’s attempts at being assertive. Anytime you catch your teen using an “I” statement, respectfully sharing his/her opinion, standing up straight and using eye contact, or expressing his/her needs in a positive way, praise your teen! Notice those behaviors, and when you are alone, tell them how proud you are of them. If they use assertiveness with you, mention it at the end of your conversation, perhaps saying, “I really appreciate the way you told me how you feel in a respectful manner.”
Assertiveness comes to some people more naturally than to others. If your teen has generally been passive or a people pleaser most of their life, being assertive can be really tough. Try to counter their guilty feelings by explaining that assertiveness is actually vital to each person’s well-being – they are taking care of themselves!