A Parenting Resolution for the New Year

Most of us could probably list ten things that we know would make us better parents, but trying to tackle all of them feels completely overwhelming. Parenting teens is tough! But rather than focus on everything we need to improve and feeling overwhelmed, we suggest that you pick only one thing to work on this year. We believe that by improving just one particular thing in your parenting, you will improve your relationship with your teen. What is that one thing?  Resolve to improve communication with your teen!

Studies consistently show that teenagers who have good communication with their parents experience more success in life, have stronger family relationships, and feel happier than those who do not. It’s worth the effort to create good communication with your son and daughter. Today, we offer some practical ways to make that happen:

Listen more than you speak. Experts recommend that parents say 50% less when having a conversation with their adolescent than they normally do when talking to an adult. You should listen to your teen more than you speak with the goal of understanding your teen’s ideas and viewpoint. You do not have to agree or disagree with them; just make them aware that you understand what they are saying. Truly listening to children builds trust and lets them know that you are interested in their thoughts, ideas and feelings, even if they still don’t get their own way. When you do talk, keep it short and simple, and do not repeat yourself. Lectures never work. No one likes them, and it alienates whoever is being addressed. If you frequently lecture or nag, your teen will withdraw. Remember that most people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts when they feel like the other person makes an effort to hear and understand them.

Avoid judgment. 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 that they actually believe what they are saying or that they will follow through with what they claim. Whatever your teen tells you, stay calm. If you tend to react in a nonjudgmental way and keep your emotions under control, your teen will feel safe to share what they are thinking and feeling. When your teen shares something, do not express your opinion or argue with them. Instead, demonstrate genuine curiosity about your teen’s ideas. Take time to listen to what they’re saying, and seek to understand them by asking follow up questions. It can be hard to refrain from expressing your opinion, but doing so will improve your communication. Respect their point of view. It is possible to disagree with your teen without putting down their opinion.

Validate feelings. 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, your teen feels like they are major life events. 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, simply seek to understand how your teen is feeling and let them know their feelings are perfectly normal. If they are facing a “crisis” then 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.

Ask open-ended questions. Research has found that teens respond better to open-ended questions than lectures.  Probably the most important thing that parents can do to get their child to open up to them more is to ask open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking “How was your day?” which always results in a quick “fine,” try saying, “Tell me about your day.” Consider asking your teen questions rather than lecturing them when they face a problem. 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.

Seize the moment. Understand that teens open up when they feel comfortable, not necessarily at convenient times for you. 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. The warmest and most rewarding conversations develop when your teen wants to talk and you make time for them.

Don’t criticize or accuse. 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?”

Role model respect. 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.
  • Minimizing their perspective or opinion.
  • Refusing to consider their point of view.
  • Criticizing their beliefs.
  • Refusing to negotiate and/or meet them halfway.
  • Sharing something your teen said or did with other people outside your family.

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.

Praise. Teens are battered by negative messages from the media, peers, bullies, teachers, and sometimes even from their parents. If your teen is hearing everything that is wrong with them or everything they should “fix” – even if you meant that message with the best of intentions to help them – it will only ruin your teen’s self-confidence, and probably your relationship. Instead, find and share positive things about your teen. Perhaps set yourself a reminder each week to tell your teen something you admire about them or something they did that you appreciated. Regardless of whether your teen responds to the compliment or not, the positive praise is bound to improve their spirits and make you feel happier as well!

We hope these ideas will help you have a wonderful year ahead with your teenager!

Middle Earth wishes you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year!

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