June 2022 Newsletter

Summer is in a full bloom and there will be plenty of opportunities for everyone to rest and spend some QUALITY TIME with your loved ones, having more space and time for BONDING CONVERSATIONS during the upcoming summer break.

In this newsletter I would like to share with you some practical tips for having better quality conversations with a teenager. They can be silly, joyful, difficult, meaningful, distressing, loving, caring and always emotional. We always feel when we express our thoughts and ideas for whatever reason and whatever the audience, even when we don’t notice it. Emotions are designed to guide our thoughts and actions, subtly and intriguingly prompting us to approach the subject of interest or forcefully pulling back with an overwhelming wave of unpleasant sensations in an attempt to avoid something triggering.

All parents, almost always think about how to get the most out of the discussions we have with children, especially teens. This stage of child’s development is very complex and can be triggering in many ways for the adolescent as well as the whole family. To better your communication style, including your own relationship with your emotional reactions is to make things better for everyone. Productive conversations are the foundation of successful parenting. It is our main vehicle for staying in touch with what is in our children’s’ hearts and minds. It is how we communicate about our hopes for them, the values we would like them to adopt, and what makes us most proud. In harder conversations, we convey what concerns us, how we would like them to improve, and why.

Like most parents, you probably give a lot of thought to what you want to say to your teenager. You start conversations when you believe your daughter or son will be most receptive to talking. But despite your best intentions, too often discussions do not go as you plan. Perhaps your very first words cause your teen to get prickly, roll eyes, or look away. Or just minutes into the conversation, she or he may clam up, act defensive, or stomp off to their bedroom, adding something shouty to express any possible displeasure.

Here we go again, you may think. Why do our discussions get derailed? Although it is sometimes obvious, more often you may be baffled about what went wrong. Or, more painfully, wonder where you went wrong.

Ten things to help your teenager keep talking:

Listen to Understand. When you listen attentively, avoid interrupting, and reflect back what you hear, you convey a desire to learn more about your child (“So, you’ve been feeling resentful?” or “What made you think that?”) that facilitates not only honest conversations but also goodwill and closeness in your relationship.

Elicit Cooperation. Due to teenagers’ natural developmental desire for autonomy, they are more likely to cooperate when you acknowledge that you cannot control them. When you threaten or make demands, you will likely create a power struggle. This is why parents almost never prevail in power struggles. It is far better to avoid pushback by wisely admitting, “I know you don’t have to do this, and I can’t make you do it, but I hope you will.”

Speak Confidently and Respectfully. Like most humans, teens respond better to assertive-supportive voices rather than to negative, sarcastic, or condescending tones. This is why, so many hopes of meaningful conversations immediately disappear. When your verbal and nonverbal communications are positive and respectful, your teen will be more likely to recognise your good intentions, especially when you show consistency in your communication style. They will feel friendlier toward you and talk willingly with you.

Demonstrate Trustworthiness. To encourage your teen to confide in you, you have to demonstrate that you will faithfully safeguard personal or sensitive information. If you must disclose what your child tells you, be upfront about it, explain who needs to know and why, and address any concerns they might have about the possible fallout.

Stay in Charge. Teens often fear conversations blowing up into ugly fights. At this age, when most of the young people are not always able to manage their urges and emotional reactions, they have to depend on their parents/caregivers to maintain control. If you lose your cool, your teen will most likely follow, too. Equally. when they see you “flipping out,” they will probably run for cover. That is why it is best to put off challenging conversations until you feel emotionally grounded, get some space by saying something like “Please give me a few minutes to collect my thoughts before we talk about this.”

Model Tolerance. With their still-developing sense of self causing exquisite sensitivity, teens avoid fessing up to things they worry parents will judge. They are very sensitive to perceived criticism. Whether your teenager is talking about a friend or herself, if you refrain from intense responses (“Noooo! Are you joking?”) and remain even-tempered (“Hmmm. Why do you suppose that happened?”), they are more likely to disclose other information and to participate in productive conversations.

Offer What’s Needed. It is not necessarily that your teen needs a fix and most often than not they know what’s best anyway. Teens often just want to vent (don’t we all?). Also, when told what they should do, teens conclude that parents think they’re unable to figure out how to solve their own problems. Try asking “Do you want me just to listen, or would you like my opinion?”

Express Empathy. Difficult discussions are often emotionally led. Parents who address teens poor decisions/behaviours, for example, may be anxious or frustrated about the risks their children took. But leading with strong, negative emotions (“Do you realise how terrified we were? You could have been killed!”) can be overwhelming and off-putting. If instead, you put yourself in their shoes and recall your experiences at that age, this empathetic perspective makes everyone feel more connected, understood and less defensive, which facilitates worthwhile conversations.

Your anxiety matters. Teens are highly sensitive to parental anxiety. One whiff of nervous energy or agitation, and they’ll avoid saying or doing anything to send it into the red zone. If you take a moment to check in with yourself about the intensity of what you’re feeling, you can decide whether it’s wise to launch into a conversation or to practice a little self-care first.

Prioritise the Relationship. Quality relationships are based on quality conversations. Focus on the quality of time with your teen. Parenting adolescents usually requires addressing challenging matters. But it’s crucial to remember that how you do so—for example, whether you are receptive to learning new things or insist that you are right—enormously affects your parent-teen connection. While issues come and go, keep in mind that your relationship with your child is forever. The abiding affection, gentleness, compassion, and thoughtfulness you invest, especially when tackling tough topics, is sure to pay dividends.

Remember – YOUR practice makes it YOUR perfect!

Happy summer from Unravel