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Increasing Communication Between Parent and Teenager

Opportunities for Communication Must Be Available
If you are in New York City and I am in New Orleans, the odds that we will communicate often or at length are slim. Similarly, if your teenager spends most of the time in his room and you keep busy in another part of the house, the odds are also slim that there will be much interaction between you and your adolescent. Therefore, before any form of communication can occur, you and your child must be together in the same room or location. You need to create opportunities for communication. The suggestions that follow are designed to increase both the amount of communication and your teenager's desire to communicate with you.

If your teenager does not drive or is too young to have a license, and if, as a result, you have to transport him to various places (e.g., to a friend's house, a football game, a doctor's appointment), the time you spend together in the car may be an opportune moment for communication. Another suggestion is to get more involved in activities that are of interest to the adolescent: help him wash or work on his car; go shopping with him; play golf, go fishing, or become involved in leisure activities consistent with his interests. You might even want to visit his room (if you can find a place to sit) to listen to the music he likes and discuss that with him. Perhaps your daughter is interested in cooking or your son wants to learn how to build or repair things; these activities could be used as opportunities for communication. Although teenagers probably will not accept your invitation, you could ask if they want to accompany you to visit their aunt or their grandparents, go out to eat, or take in a movie. Most of the time they will decline because they would rather be doing something else or be with their friends, but they might surprise you and agree. The chance that they will come with you may increase if you tell them they can bring a friend, but don't count on this happening.

Try to provide as many opportunities as possible for you and your teenager to be together so communication can occur.

Talk Just to Be Talking
Because communication between parents and children decreases with the advent of adolescence, much of the verbal interaction that we do have with the youngsters is designed to get a point across, teach them something, get them to see the situation from a different angle, change their attitude, tell them what they are doing wrong, show them how to do it correctly, or convince them of the importance of certain activities. In other words, when we talk to them, we are trying to accomplish something more than a simple, enjoyable conversation. If this is the majority of communication that we have with our teenagers, their willingness to talk to us will certainly decrease. An important goal in communicating with teens should be just talking with them, without trying to accomplish anything other than talking.

This can be achieved primarily by discussing with the teenager something that is of interest to him or her. Some of my children's interests at the current time center around sports, skateboards, cars, music, and the opposite sex. If I want to have a conversation with them just to talk, and for no other purpose, this can usually be accomplished by discussing one of the above subjects. You can speak with your youngsters about movies they have seen, TV programs, rock stars, school news, and other subjects you know will interest them. Many times it is important just to communicate with them, without trying to accomplish anything, make a point, or get them to understand a concept. Talk just to talk.

Some teenagers tell me that when they talk to their parents about various things, the conversation usually ends up in lectures or preaching. In other words, the child may say, "When I'm talking with them just to have a conversation, they use what I say either to make a point, to teach me something, or to explain certain things." Often when this is the case, a child will stop communicating. A case in point is that of the sixteen-year-old who is talking to his mother about a friend who quit school. "Mom, Mike has been working at the fast-food restaurant since he stopped going to school. He really hates the job and says it's a lot of work and he doesn't get paid much money. He's thinking about quitting and finding another job." Instead of listening to her son and taking this opportunity to talk to him about what he is saying, the mother uses his remarks as a launching pad to discuss the value of education - why he should stay in school, how he will need an education to get a good job, and so on. The child started the conversation to have some verbal interchange, and what resulted was a lecture he did not want to hear. In another example, a girl is talking to her mother about a friend's sixteen-year-old cousin who already has a baby and is pregnant again. This information results in a lecture on sex, boys, the need to be careful, and other bits of advice. In these two instances, the children are talking to their parents just to talk, but instead they receive Lecture 101. When teenagers attempt to converse with their parents and get this type of response, communication with parents will decrease.


From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.

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