Aug 23 / Simcha

Critical Rules for Critical Conversations

When all is said and done, we earn our teenagers’ trust by showing them we trust them, by being respectful, and by sharing power.  Adolescents (and all children for that matter) who feel their parents are really interested in their world, feelings and experiences, are more likely to be open to learning from them.

Although it can be  seriously challenging not to be provoked by what sounds like irrational and angry talk, we fail to help our teenager learn to think clearly if our reactions are repetitious, hopelessly predictable, obvious or childishly patronizing.  Michael Bradley, author of Yes, Your Teen is Crazy: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind (2001), suggests that about 90 percent of what we say to our teens in critical conversations is “useleless, loud, and often inflammatory.”  And it is therefore simply not heard.

What then, instead?  Bradley offers the follow rules for visiting the adolescent world and conveying unwelcome messages.  (These rules are helpful communication guidelines for all our difficult interactions.)

  • Use fewer words in shorter sentences. The more you talk, the less they listen.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t repeat yourself. (It’s very annoying!)
  • Lower your voice. The louder you are, the less they hear.
  • Keep your hands down, especially when your kid is upset. Hands in faces are very provocative to teens. Never crowd them physically or verbally.
  • Use “I” statements. Speak more about your feelings than their behaviors. Talk about how sad you were when he was mean to his sister, rather than what’s wrong with him.
  • Organize your thoughts before you start to talk. This art of adolescent communication is hard work.  Edit the first draft of what you want to say before you speak.
  • Gauge your kid’s mood before starting tough discussions. Monday mornings at 7 a.m. are bad times to bring up school issues. Timing is everything in the world of adolescent discourse.
  • Don’t cram too much into one conversation. Take frequent breaks if you see frustration building on either side. Once it gets hot, you won’t get anything good done anyway. Don’t hesitate to say, “Let’s continue this tomorrow.”
  • Allow your kid to use the pressure-relief valve of walking out at times. Although it might appear as a simple defiance, it might also be her way of avoiding snap-outs. Let her know that her walking away is OK, if you pick up the conversation again later.
  • Don’t go to ultimatums unless absolutely necessary. Kids see ultimatums as challenges to be risen to no matter what the cost.  If you feel an ultimatum coming, it’s time for a time-out.
  • ABOVE ALL, don’t ever talk down to your adolescent.  If you can’t get your head into a position of respect for his feelings, don’t start the conversation.

And of course, find time to talk to your children and teens about non-difficult and non-contentious issues.  Don’t limit your communication time with your teen to those times when there is a conflict.