My fifteen year-old son, Nick, had become quiet, distant and uninvolved with the family. Having raised another son, now twenty-two, I knew that some of this was just teenage boyhood. Still, I was concerned. You hear so many stories on the news about kids who go wrong, making bad choices and they always seem to think they do not really fit in. Did Nick feel like that? Was he just enjoying being alone and playing video games or was I missing something important? My husband and I decided to find out.
We had a long talk with Nick and discovered that he was struggling with some things we hadn’t picked up on, but generally he was okay. First we felt relief and then we wondered how we could improve communication with our son. By talking to Nick we developed some ideas about communication with teens in general.
1) Be specific. This applies to praise, criticism and suggestions. Although teens tend to be vague when they speak to us, they really want specifics. A major breakthrough in our talk with Nick came when we discussed how we prayed for him. He was completely surprised to find that his dad and I said Novenas for him, fasted for him, and had even asked my grandpa, before he died, to especially ask the Lord to take care of Nick when my gramps finally got to meet his creator.
Nick also expressed wanting to know exactly what we expected of him. Does, “Be home for dinner,” mean he is automatically supposed to be home at a certain time, or is it negotiable? Can he just call and say he won’t be home, or does he have to ask permission to stay out by a specific time? Nick wanted real clarity and would use any grey area as wiggle room.
2) Negotiate what is negotiable. It is so easy for parents and teachers to develop an attitude of NO. To teens it can feel like their world is run by too many rules. Young people like to have a say in what they do and negotiating some of the finer points of rules or expectations can help them to feel as if they have some input and control in their own lives.
3) Use humor and nonverbal cues. My daughter and I devised a private sign for me to let her know that her behavior was over the line. I would make two fingers of my one hand walk over an imaginary line on the other. She understood that this meant she was about to cross a line. Whenever I made this motion she would nod her head and smile.
4) Be tactful. It is never okay to correct a child publicly in front of their peers. Teens act tough, but one of their great fears is embarrassment. This group of kids, who all want to de different, hate to feel different in front of others.
I currently have three teens in my house and three more children coming up behind them. I hope that with each one I’ll learn more and be able to communicate more effectively.