Quality Time, Quality Talk
“My parents don’t get me.” Hands down, this is the most common complaint I hear from teens.
Teens have a deep yearning to be understood by their parent.
With all of life’s demands on each member of the household, both quality time and quality talk can easily slip through the cracks, leading to a lack of understanding between a teen and a parent.
As a result, the conversation between parents and teens can deteriorate into a series of sound bites about what each person needs to do, and what the other person is not doing right.
Eventually, everyone braces for the next dreaded encounter. If strain and conflict are occurring regularly in your relationship with your teen, then your teen is likely not feeling understood by you.
The first step in improving your relationship with your teen is noticing the quality of your talking interactions.
1. Is the tone of your interaction “good” or “bad”?
When you ask your teen about how something is going they will usually respond with its “good” or its “bad”, but you want them to give you details.
However, from your teen’s perspective that brief response provides enough information. You won’t get much further than that with your kid if they feel bad around you because you are not satisfied with their answer.
It’s critical to keep in mind that the primary emotion felt will direct all parent-child interactions going forward. So yes, your teen could elaborate but not if doing so makes them feel misunderstood. Getting them to say more will require some additional work on your part.
Once you notice the quality of your talking interactions with your teen, the next steps in improving your relationship are to get curious and to listen.
2. Get curious
Notice what you are doing when a conversation goes well between you and your teen and do more of it.
No, I don’t mean that you should only take them shopping or only let them play video games to foster a good relationship.
I mean, when you are talking to one another or hanging out in the same room and it feels good, what are you talking about? How did the conversation begin? Were you rested? Had you all eaten? Had you had a good day at work? Did you talk about things you felt good about first, before discussing the things you are each upset about?
Observe what is going well and do more of it, so that the “bad” tone happens in the minority of conversations and not in the majority.
I did not say agree with them. I said listen.
Frequently, these two actions are mixed up: If you listen, you are you somehow agreeing with or condoning a behavior you don’t like.
Challenge yourself to let your teen speak on and on about what seems unfair to them, or upsets them even if you disagree. Try not to interject with, “Yes, but you have to…” or “No, that’s not what they meant…” Refrain from interjecting!
Your teen will notice. The message you send by listening is that you value hearing what your teen has to say more than you value being right.
It can be uncomfortable as a parent to hear how your child understands or reacts to the world. But don’t let your discomfort get in the way of listening to your teen tell you what their experience is.
You will have your time to comment later, but if you don’t let them say their peace, they will never listen back.
When your teen becomes frustrated and says never mind or walks away, ask them to come back. Don’t worry!
Encourage them to try and communicate with you so you understand their point of view.
This skill of listening and pursuing a conversation even when they get discouraged will not only strengthen your relationship with them but will teach them the invaluable skills of listening and not giving up when frustration arises.
If you would like more practice or ideas feel free to call or email me for a Parenting Consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for this monthly blog by clicking the TalknTeens link on the left side bar.