Being a teenager is extremely tough, especially in 2011. Never before have teens had so much pressure (mostly stemming from media and society…but that is another blog) to survive in school and their lives. During counseling sessions teens say that their parents “don’t care” and parents “don’t listen”. I see why parents may not have time as they have many responsibilities and duties. When healthy effective communication is not seen as a responsibility, things can begin to come apart at the seams.
Teens have a lot to say and the real reason they start to talk, may not be obvious. Teens love to drop hints. They feel these hints are obvious, but for most adults they are more like ambiguous cryptic coding. Teens will drop hints when they do not feel safe/comfortable enough to talk openly. When a teen comes in and tries to drop hints, I identify the behavior immediately. I love to talk about the obvious: the teen’s feelings around communication and fear.
Teens are also notorious for “lying by omission” by leaving out important tidbits of information. “I’m going to stay the night over Robert’s house. His parents said it’s OK”. Yes, Robert’s parents said it was OK for your son to stay at the house…while they are on vacation for a week. Teens are too afraid that they will not be allowed to do what they want at the moment. In counseling, we talk about the importance of always letting your parents know where you are for safety reasons. If your parents think you are somewhere other than where you said, they cannot get to you. I also discuss consequences and trust. What if you get caught? How will you be punished? The ideas around immediate gratification and long-term gratification are processed at length. So many children are raised to get what they want, when they want. They don’t always learn long-term payoffs. In the case of telling the whole truth, we discuss the long-term payoff of gaining trust. Then at a later time, teens will be allowed to go places without them questioning their motives.
Teens talk and they talk A LOT! When you allow them to talk, they feel heard. It is important to validate their experiences. As it may be hard to hold back un-solicited advice, teens need to learn on their own. Be there to support them. Statement such as: “That must be tough.” and “It seems like you are stressed.” are extremely helpful. The best place for teens to talk is in the car. The car is a safe, non-confrontational space where they feel they can speak their mind. Take the time to listen. I understand that parents have a lot going on (that teens do not need to know about), it is important to have them be heard. When you invest the time to talk to your teen, the long term payoff is truth, openness and honesty.