What Your Teens Really Wish You Knew about Communicating with Them
By Kari Ramos, Director of Counseling and Student Life, Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy
Do you ever want to know what your teens are really sharing with the school counselor? The answer may surprise you.
You might be able to relate to that ping of insecurity felt somewhere deep inside when your teenager comes home from school and shares that they met with the school counselor that day. Instantly, there is an inner voice that likely sounds something like this, “Oh no, now the counselor knows all of our family’s deepest darkest secrets. What EXACTLY did they share? Do they think I am a bad parent? Ugh, I probably need to call tomorrow and fix it...”
While this is entirely normal, the reality is that conversations in the counselor’s office are nothing like that at all. In fact, most of the time is spent focusing on the feelings that your teen is experiencing and discussing how they would like to solve whatever problem is troubling them at the time. There is, however, one theme that is incredibly persistent – it is all about communication.
Here’s what your teens really wish you knew about communicating with them:
Ask us how we are feeling about something other than school and truly listen. This is the resounding number one issue teens mention! When students reach ‘transcript age’ they start reporting that their parents ask them less about how they are feeling and far more about academics. It is probably not a coincidence that this is around the same time that the teenage years begin and suddenly your child who was once very willing to share begins communicating with only the occasional grunt and shoulder shrug. I know, they may not always be ready to talk about how they are feeling, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t ever open up. When they do offer their feelings about something, that is the time to bite your cheek and listen.
Don’t rush to solve our problems, just listen and try to understand what we are going through. Trust me, your teen won’t be the only one who benefits from this one! Validation is a fabulous tool in communicating with teens, spouses, coworkers, etc. This skill takes lots of practice though – why not try it out with your teen? Validation requires careful listening and empathizing. For example, if your teenager shares that he/she is angry about something, instead of jumping to fix it, try saying something like, “I can understand why you are feeling angry about that situation – I think I would probably feel a similar way if I was in your shoes (if that is true). What ideas do you have about what to do next?” Try it, I promise you if it is executed correctly (with lots of deep breathing and no offers of problem solving), it will open up the lines of communication!
Ask us about something other than school, soccer, piano, etc… They know it’s important, but school and their extracurriculars can be stressful and sometimes they feel like it’s the only thing that you care about (see #1). The challenge here is to find something to actually talk to them about. Maybe it is starting with a game, a story from your day, or something that you are all looking forward to doing over the weekend. Or perhaps they want to tell you about a show that they are watching on Netflix?
My hope is that these tips will help you continue to build upon your relationship by improving communication between you and your teenager.
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