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Communicating With Your Adolescent

What types of challenges are there to communicating with your adolescent?

Adolescence can be a challenging time for young people and their families. It is a time when they are trying to find their place in the world. Your teenager is going through rapid physical and emotional changes and parents and teenagers must both make changes in their relationships and the way that they communicate to adjust to this new stage.

Effective communication with your child during the teenage years is crucial for maintaining a good relationship, reducing conflict, and solving problems. It also makes living together a lot easier. However, there are a number of barriers to good communication with your child. This includes:

  • Mind-reading - This involves expecting that others will know what you are thinking and feeling, without clearly telling them. This increases the chances of misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  • Avoiding communication - This involves putting off telling others what we think, feel or want, which increases feelings of anger, resentment, and frustration. This creates tensions in relationships, and angry outbursts.
  • Labelling - Negative labels are often used to criticise and attack another person, which usually makes the other person attack back, thereby escalating arguments and disagreements. Examples of labelling includes \"You are a liar\", and \"You are such a brat\".
  • Alienating messages - This makes the other person feel threatened or under attack, and they usually respond by attacking back. Examples of alienating messages include \"You-statements\" (e.g., \"You made me so angry when you didn't speak to my friend!\"), sarcasm, negative comparisons, threats, and labelling.

Helping yourself

The following are some suggestions that may help improve communication within your family:

  • Communicate in an assertive way - This involves clearly expressing what you think, how you feel, and what you want, without demanding that you must have things your own way. So rather than using \"You-statements\", use \"I\" statements. This involves describing what happened (e.g., \"The other day when Jen came over and you didn't stop and talk to her?\"), expressing your own thoughts (e.g., \"I thought it looked rude?\") and feelings (e.g., \"and I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable\"), and then stating what you would like to happen (e.g., \"Next time she comes over I'd like you to say hello and make an effort to talk to her\").
  • Try to be an approachable parent - It's often easy for a child to come to their parent when they have good news, but it can hard and scary to give parents bad news. To increase the likelihood that your adolescent will keep you updated on what is happening in their life, keep your emotions in check, try not to over-react, and \"stay cool\", even when your child is giving you bad news.
  • Listen - Having family and friends who listen and who are not judgemental helps to keep communication open. Rather than providing advice, reassurance or a sermon, simply listen to what your teenager has to say. This will help them come up with their own solutions to problems, and will make them feel comfortable in talking to you.
  • Try not to nag - Although young people benefit from occasional reminders, repeated nagging often leads to sullenness, resistance to obey, or arguments. Stand firm on serious issues rather than focusing on and reacting to every little thing. Be clear about what you expect and what you think is fair, and work out ways together that you might make a situation better.

Some helpful parenting resources include:

  • Parenting SA - (http://www.parenting.sa.gov.au/)
  • \"How to Talk So Teen Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk\" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Getting professional help

If you, or someone that you know, is in need of additional assistance, the best person to speak to is your GP. They may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The following services may also be of assistance: