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A psychologist’s advice for how to talk with teens

MOTHER AND SON
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If we follow these 6 recommendations, we may find our relationship with our adolescents stays strong.

What happens to our children during their adolescence? It’s a complicated age, and it can seem as if our children abandon us—but that’s not the case. It’s a period in which they need to find themselves and define their identity. They need their space, and that’s why they take it, although often it may seem to us that they go too far. If we sow the seeds well when they’re younger, give them our trust, and keep prudent watch over them, the results will be positive. They will come back. We just have to be patient.

Adolescents are human beings in formation, who are still developing as people. They are individuals still under construction, and their character undergoes constant changes. Their brains are boiling over with sensations and ideas, needs and appetites, and consequently, the way they communicate will rarely be clear. Asking them to sit down with us to dialogue about a problem as adults is often unrealistic.

So here’s what you can do …

Listen to them, paying attention and not interrupting them

Take advantage of the possibly rare occasions when they decide to talk. Your attitude when you listen should be as if what they are telling you is the most important thing in the world (I can assure you that for them, it is!). Stop whatever you’re doing. Even if it’s just for a moment, leave aside those tasks that you are preoccupied with and that you “have to do.”

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER TALKING
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Look your teenager in the eyes, with a sincere and open gaze, without even a hint of judgment or wariness. It’s not bad if they see you nod from time to time; it’s a way of keeping actively in contact, so they see you’re interested in what they’re saying. If your adolescents talk to you and come to think that you’re not listening, they will feel hurt, and may strike back verbally.

Get into their world

Don’t allow your prejudices—the ideas you have already formed about your children and their behavior—to dominate the conversation. You have to try to get into sync with them, understanding that they have their own perspective and experiences. They should be able to tell that you get that something is going on with them, and they should feel understood, because that’s going to make it much easier for them to open up to you and share their situation.

TALK
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Don’t expect a great explanation from them, or that they’re going to tell you everything they do or everything that concerns them; that’s why it’s important that you let them talk. Over the years, we adults have learned to control our emotions, but adolescents haven’t managed that yet, and their emotions are constantly changing and multiplying. Everything that happens to them, everything they feel, gets magnified, and often blown out of proportion; everything affects them, matters to them, and often, hurts them.

Give them understanding and support

The world of adolescents doesn’t have nuances; everything is black and white. So, when you’re at one of those rare moments when they decide to talk with you, your children need to feel understood and supported. It’s true that most of these things that are so “important” for your adolescent children are objectively trivial, and are nothing compared with the problems that you, as an adult, have to face day after day (a mortgage, paying bills, the IRS …) but you have to understand that “their problems” are very real for them.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
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Use phrases of sympathy

These help build a bridge between you and encourage them to continue, such as, “Now I see how important this is to you,” “I realize how much this affects you,” or “I understand you’re going through a rough time.” Much of the lack of communication that is created between teens and their parents has its origin, not so much in what is said, but rather in the way it’s said.

Use a warm tone, avoiding threats, and using positive language

As parents, we often have the habit of getting our message across loud and clear to our children. That kind of communication is appreciated in many other contexts, but with adolescents, that way of expressing ourselves might not work so well. We need to understand that the way we talk is of fundamental importance, and as a consequence, we need to take care of both our tone of voice and the words we use when we talk to them. We have to choose our words well, and even pay attention to our gestures and body language.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
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Avoid comparisons with their siblings or other people

If you compare your son or daughter to someone who, in your opinion, “does everything right,” not only will you manage to put your child into a defensive attitude and make them stop listening to you; you’ll also make it likely that they’ll have a bad relationship with that person you’ve compared them to.

Raising children is an art, and no one is born knowing how to do it. It’s the most important responsibility you’ll have in your life. We should never stop learning and working on improving in this area—just like our children also live each day trying to learn the art of living and growing in their personal and social life.

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