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Communicating With Your Teenager

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Mrs. Thomas was at her wits’ end. “It’s my son Jason,” she confided. “No matter what I suggest, he’s against it. Whenever I ask him to do anything, he grumbles, argues, or outright refuses. If I try to ignore him, he goes out of his way to pick a fight. He’s only 14, and I don’t see how I can live through three or four more years of this. Sometimes I think he spends every waking minute figuring out ways to annoy me.”

I listened sympathetically and tried to help her explore some options open to her. Whether Jason really wanted to annoy his mother, I didn’t know. But after an hour of conversation I was pretty sure that Mrs. Thomas was spending most of her waking minutes planning how to out-maneuver him.

Maybe you’ve had similar struggles. Something goes wrong. You try to discuss it with the teenager at your house. You get only exasperated looks. After all, he or she couldn’t expect an old fogy like you to understand. And all the other kids are going it. You try to talk some sense into this youngster. You feel the warmth rising around your collar. You exchange angry words. Your teenager stomps out and slams the door. You feel helpless.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Parents and teenagers can learn to talk to each other—believe it or not—like civilized people. They can even learn to show respect and love.

Communication is made up of two basic processes. Listening and talking. Let’s look at each in turn.

Listening

We show respect for a young person and break down walls of hostility when we’re willing to listen to his or her point of view. But real listening is not easy to do. It takes a lot of self-discipline. Here are a few pointers:

  1. Give your full attention to your teenager. Don’t try to read the paper or do your housework while you lend one ear. When we set everything else aside and concentrate fully on what the person is saying, we communicate caring.

  2. Listen in order to really understand what your teenager is thinking and feeling. Don’t just try to punch holes in his or her argument. Don’t let your mind wander into preparing your rebuttal. At this point your only task is to see the problem through teenage eyes.

  3. Check out the meaning of what you are hearing. Ask questions and rephrase what you think was intended. Not only will you learn something, but your teenager will be amazed that you are so interested.

  4. Find out what the information means to your teenager. Why is it important? What feelings are involved?

Talking

When we’re listening carefully, we’ll have earned the right to talk. But equal care is required there:

  1. Talk about the problem. Don’t attack the person. And don’t bring in a history of past mistakes. Stick to the one subject at hand.

  2. Share how you feel about the problem, but take responsibility for your own feelings. “I feel very uncomfortable in a messy environment” is a lot better than “You upset me with your sloppy room.”

Why not try practicing these few simple communication skills on your teenager for one week? Watch what a difference it makes!

For a deeper investigation of the topic of successful communication, read “Before You Fight With Your Teenager,” a vital part of the Winning Series of Friendship tracts.

Copyright © 1996, Published for NAD Church Ministries Department

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