By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed.
Many times, we are so conditioned in how we speak that we do not realize whether or not we are effectively communicating with our teens. This is especially true when they upset us.
To ensure that you are fostering an environment that will encourage your teenager to talk to you, as opposed to fearing you, the first step is to evaluate your communication style. How you express yourself and what you say to your teens, especially when you are angry, can inhibit your relationship with them. Reacting by shouting short sarcastic phrases will usually turn off most people, including our teenagers.
The following are twelve examples of statements and questions that you should avoid saying:
Think through the things that you say that are similar to the above, and create a list. Then, meet with your teen and ask her for her input. Explain that you are doing this because you love her and want her to trust you and to not fear coming to you to discuss things that are important to her. Go over the list and then ask your teen to add any statements that you may have missed. For example, you can say, "Tell me the things that I say to you that you feel are hurtful; or prevent you from wanting to talk to me about important issues." Add them to the list and make a mental note of them. Then, ask your teen to tell you when you react to her behavior and use any of those phrases. Stress that improved communications is a "two way street" and you are going to do your part to make things better. Then add that you also expect her to do her part, as it will take both your efforts to improve communications.
What to do
Remember to have a "thick skin" and thank her for her feedback when she provides it - even if you are angry. The best way to change this reactionary behavior is to try and think before you react, and talk more constructively to your teenager. Think of how you would have to react at work if a subordinate or coworker did something to upset you. As angry as you might be, you would strive to act professional because your job depended on it. If you do react and your daughter brings it to your attention, thank her and then discuss the issue more constructively because your relationship depends on it.
You also need to set guidelines with your teen, instead of making rigid rules that will alienate her and create a vicious cycle of poor communicating and hard feelings.
Unilateral disarmament is the first step in demonstrating to your teen that you are serious about improving communications with her. When you lead by example, you are establishing the foundation and setting your expectations. This works better that a "do as I say, not as I do!" reactionary approach which causes your teen to be more rebellious.
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