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Interacting with Your Tween or Teen: Rational Communication Trumps a Lecture

Posted by Ken Myers

Almost every parent has experienced the glossy-eyed look teens and tweens give when he or she is getting lectured. While some of the words you are saying may sink into their heads, it's more likely that the child is thinking of other things such as a favorite video game or the new girl or boy in school. It's because you are providing a speech that the child simply finds boring.

Instead of giving a lecture about rules or behaviors, engage the child in rational communication. I say "rational" because you need to have a calm disposition instead of being driven by anger or frustration. By everyone taking a few moments to catch a breath, a more meaningful and productive communication can be achieved. How do you engage a child to communicate rather than standing on your soapbox and wagging a finger?

how to really communicate with your teenInteraction - Communication is a two-way street. You need to know what your child is thinking about the topic in order to know he or she is actually paying attention. By offering a way for children to answer questions or interact within the topic, you are forcing them to think about the subject in order to formulate a response. If he or she is thinking about the material, there is a greater chance that it will become more permanent instead of flowing in through one ear and out the other.

Yes, No and I Don't Know - Instead of asking questions of your children that can be answered with "yes" and "no," ask questions that rely more on a tangible answer. It's too easy to force out a quick one word response to a question. However, it makes the brain work if you ask a question where the answer can be a short sentence or two. As we wrote recently in another blog post titled, What Really Matters to Your Child's Success in School, teaching your child to ask critical questions to you and others is a learned skill and will help your child learn that he or she can challenge others (and think), respectfully, for themselves. If your child falls back on the "I don't know" response, then you need to try harder to ask a question that requires deeper thought. Your child's mind is like a combination lock; you need to keep spinning the dial in order to get it to open up.

Privacy - Depending on the situation, a teen can feel ultimately more comfortable if other family members or friends are not around. Essentially, you could take your teen to a park and have a discussion about any topic, at which point he or she would feel more comfortable than speaking in front of relatives. It's a matter of embarrassing the child and he or she needs to feel safe that they can open up without being gawked at. Make it a private bonding moment that you and your child share that is your own. For instance, you could take your teen to the park with a couple of sodas once per week to discuss anything he or she wants. 

Emotional Status - As mentioned earlier, the emotional status of the parties involved will make a profound impact in how well the communication will unfold. There can be no anger between you and each party must be relaxed in order to think rationally. Depending on the situation, this could take anywhere from an hour to a couple of days. However, the effect on the communication will be more than worth the wait.

When you and the child begin yelling at each other, the communication is over. It turns into a shouting match of each one trying to hurt the other. When the situation escalates to such degrees, then there is no benefit with continuing the discussion. Take a few deep breaths and approach the subject again when you and the child have had a chance to calm down and think about the problem.

Topics: relationships, fatherhood program tips, parenting tips

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