Communication is the most important element in building a successful relationship with your teenager. The expression, “It is not what you say, but how you say it,” has never been more true or more applicable than here.

As we talk with our teens, we can either give them a sense of compassion, understanding, and support; or we can convey to them that we are disappointed and angry about what they did, and that they aren’t doing what we told them to.

Handling and improving communication with teenagers is not an easy process. Many times parents find it difficult to change the way they talk to their children from telling their child what to do to the true essence of communication - which is the exchange of ideas and opinions.

To encourage your teen to talk, be clear that your purpose is to find out how he feels about a certain situation. Your teenager may also use typical teenage answers such as “I’m fine”, “I don’t know” and “Nothing,” indicating that he may not know how to express his thoughts and feelings. It would be up to the parent to start the conversation and help their teen along by asking open ended questions.

There are some phrases your teenager may use that express that he is disappointed, or even angry, with the way the conversation is going. The two most common are “Whatever you say” and “You just don’t understand.”

Both of these answers are a clear statement from your teen that he thinks he has absolutely no input in matters that concern him. He may feel that you are treating him like a child and are not giving him a chance to state any of his thoughts on the subject at hand. He may also be stating that, in his opinion, you are just not listening to him at all.

Should you hear any of these, take a quick inventory of what was said and ask yourself where you cut your teenager off or out – or didn’t listen to or hear his side of the story. These comments are a big STOP sign.

If you cannot recall with what exactly you turned your teenager off, ask him. In addition to learning how to express himself properly, he also will have to overcome being hesitant to talk things out. As his trust that you are really interested in finding out what goes on in his life and mind increases, it will be easier and easier to get a response.

A common complaint from parents is that their teenager does not talk to them anymore. An advertisement against teenage smoking on TV touched that sentiment with the following statement – “At age four you could not get them to stop talking; at age 16 you cannot get them to talk.”

First, teens are not sure how to approach their parents with problems. Teenagers don't know how to differentiate between too much dependency – “running to mommy and daddy” – from discussing options and situations with parents and other adults.

Secondly, our own busy lifestyles might have given our children the impression that we do not have enough time to listen to their problems. Thinking back, how many times has your child approached you with a question or story, and your response was either, “Not now, honey,” or, “I’m busy right now.” Perhaps you promised to listen to them as soon as you were finished with what you were doing right then – but did not.

The more often we sent our child away, the more he learned not to bother us with his problems and questions. Now that we want him to come to us, we will have to start repairing the damage. We need to convince our teenager that we indeed care, want to listen, and will make time for him.

Another important factor that needs to be considered is that our teenager does not think at our level. Parents of teenagers had plenty of emotional ups and downs during their lifetime; we have a different perspective about what is important and what we just need to get over.

However, we never forget our first love, and how much it hurt when it ended. We remember, because at that time, our world was so small that our emotions proportionately were a lot more serious.

Your teenager is at that point right now – the smallest thing means the end of the world. We need to transform our thoughts and get to their level of feeling in order to successfully relate and talk to them.

It is true that the problems we have to deal with in our daily lives make our teenagers’ problems seem trivial. We have to remind ourselves every day that the problems that our teenager faces are just as important to your teen as the problems we face.

Our quick response when our daughter is trying to tell us about a particular problem she is facing in school is to “not take it serious, you’ll laugh about it in 10 years.” Your daughter needs a solution now, not in 10 years. She is dealing with an emotional emergency or a situation in school or with her friend now. Since our teenagers do not know how to handle the situation, they come to us for help, advice and, most of all, emotional support.

Always keep in mind that the way we respond to, or address, our teenagers will determine if they will come to us for answers and advice the next time.

Author's Bio: 

Christina Botto is the author of Help Me With My Teenager! A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents that Works and Fitting The Pieces. For tools and resources to help you better understand and relate to your teen, or help with specific issues visit her web site Parenting A Teenager.
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