8 Communication Mistakes Parents Make with Teens

Frustrated Mother and DaughterStudies show that teens are more successful when they have open communication with their parents. Teens who report having good communication with their mom or dad are more likely to have better grades and less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Additionally, studies have proven that parents are their teens’ greatest influence when it comes to family values, expectations and choices concerning tough issues like sex and drugs.

However, wanting open communication with your teen is easier said than done. To build better communication with your son or daughter, avoid these common mistakes that discourage teens from opening up:

1. Talking more than listening. Lectures never work. No one likes them, and it alienates whoever is being addressed. Teens want to be heard. Even if you don’t agree with them, they want to know that you understand their point of view and that you won’t disregard their feelings. You should listen to your teen more than you should talk. Obviously, teens still need your guidance, but parents should handle it in a more adult manner, with discussion, negotiation, and understanding. When you do talk, keep it short and simple, and do not repeat yourself. Also consider asking your teen questions. Sometimes, if you can help them think through their problems from different angles, your teen will come to the correct decision themselves, which is exactly what you want them to do as they become adults.

2. Minimizing their situation. It can be hard to feel sympathy for your teen’s cancelled date, acne breakout or mean teacher, when you may be facing much more serious issues. However, if you really want to encourage your teen to talk to you, you will have to recognize that your child FEELS like they have an emergency. Perception makes a big difference, and although their problems may look insignificant to you, they feel like major life events to your teen. Trying to offer your own perspective (“this won’t matter to you in the long run” or “this isn’t a big deal” or “it doesn’t make sense to get this angry over something so small”) only makes your teen feel like you don’t understand them. While your perspective may be the one closer to reality, it will just make your teenager feel unimportant, misunderstood and isolated. Instead, help them brainstorm solutions to their problem, however small. This can improve their problem solving skills while also expressing care and concern for their situation.

3. Blaming your teen. If your teen comes to you with a problem, and you tell them that it’s their fault, you will only alienate your child, which will completely stop your conversation. If it’s a situation where your teen tells you they are upset about someone else’s behavior, do not justify or try to explain the other person’s behavior, such as, “your teacher probably has to raise her voice to get you to listen.” Instead, simply listen to them as they express their feelings. If you truly feel your teen is at fault, try asking a question to promote further discussion such as, “If you could do it over again, would you do anything differently?”

4. Quick disapproval. The fastest way to get a teen to clam up is to express disapproval, judgment, or horror. Remember that teens often say things for shock value, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will follow through. Whatever your teen tells you, stay calm. Focus on hearing your teen’s side of the story completely and understanding their thoughts before you even say a word. Ask questions to show that you are listening and to make sure you know the whole story. When you are ready to share your opinion, avoid using sentences that start with “you.” Stating “you should have…” or “you need to…” or “you make me feel…” causes your teen to become defensive. Use “I” statements to express your thoughts, such as “I wonder what would have happened if you had…” or “I think it could be helpful to…”

5. Solving their problem. While it’s difficult to watch your child deal with a problem, you should not solve them for your teen. To prepare them for adulthood, they need to learn how to solve problems on their own. If you have not demonstrated problem-solving skills to your teen, read our previous blog. Allow your teen to express their feelings, and offer to help them brainstorm solutions.

6. Belittling their ideas. Teens often have big ideas that are completely unrealistic. However, putting down the idea can shut your teen down. Instead, respond with curiosity. You don’t have to say you think it’s a great idea, but you could ask them why they like the idea, or how they plan to accomplish it. Just listening to them and asking probing questions can not only show support to your teen, but help them realize whether it’s a viable idea or not, all by themselves.

7. Being disrespectful. Parents of teens often feel disrespected by their child, but it can go the other way, too. If your teen feels like you don’t respect them, they will not open up to you. Some common ways parents may show disrespect to their teens include:

  • Raising your voice.
  • Being sarcastic in your tone.
  • Disapproving their perspective or opinion.
  • Refusing to consider their point of view.
  • Criticizing their beliefs.
  • Refusing to negotiate and/or meet them halfway.

Respect is a two-way street, and parents cannot expect to receive respect without giving respect in return. Teens learn respect best when it is extended to them by their parents, because parents are modeling how it works.

8. Forcing conversations into your timetable. Understand that teens open up when they feel comfortable, not necessarily at convenient times. You cannot schedule your child like a meeting. Many times, teens will bring up something that is bothering them spontaneously on a car ride or while helping to fold laundry. Do not dismiss those opportunities because you are too busy. If they feel brushed off, they may not open up again. Seize the moment! The warmest and most rewarding conversations develop when your teen wants to talk and you make time for them.

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