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Communicating With Your Teens

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (February 16, 2017)

I was recently invited to give a talk to parents of teenagers on the topic of how to communicate with their teens. It’s a challenging topic to broach and I think when most people hear the word ‘teens’, they will immediately conjure up images of hormonal fluctuations, rebellion, kids glued to their phones, eye rolling, defiance and loud music. And the mystery of the mind of a teenager usually causes adults to steer clear of them. But behind the façade of Facebook scrolling teens, is a person who is looking for connection and authentic communication.

Teenage years are challenging for both parent and child. For the parent, the parenting styles and techniques that used to work may not work anymore. They may still see their child as their little child. But for the teenager, they feel they are fully capable of being independent and want their own autonomy. They are creating their own worldview, challenging what they once knew and finding who they are as individuals. And it can be a healthy process of self-discovery. But a challenging one most times.

Having worked with teenagers for many years, I compiled some tips that I have found useful over the years. Keep communication REAL.

R - Respect As pre-teens and teenagers are growing in their independence, it’s important that we respect their boundaries, space and choices. It’s much easier said than done – especially if we think that they are making the wrong choices! But it’s much better that they make mistakes in our presence than if they are to make them on their own after they leave the home. As they are becoming independent, they will want their own physical space. So we have to respect that and not barge into their room, or worse still, look through their personal belongings or hack into their computers and social media accounts. In the same way we want them to respect us and our boundaries, we have to respect theirs. Parents must make their expectations clear but also respect the personal space and choices that their child makes. Highlight the consequences of difference choices but don’t give directive instructions on how your teenager should choose. So instead of saying “Go to bed now. Because I said so.” It would be “I trust that you know that if you sleep late, you will be exhausted tomorrow and face the consequences of that. You can choose wisely what you should do.”

E – Engage When teenagers seem aloof and in their own world, it’s tempting to disengage with them. But it’s so important to engage with them in conversation. One way to do this is to be interested in the things that he/she is interested in. It could be K-pop stars, a certain TV series, a video game or sports – but whatever it is, take an interest in it. Have your child teach you about it. Ask questions about it. Take part in it. By being a part of your child’s world, it will enable him/her to open up to you more easily. Also, engage in getting to know their friends too.

A – Affection Children will always appreciate the affection of parents but affection at this age will no longer be cuddles and kisses! According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are 5 main ‘love languages’ and everyone has a different dominant love language. The 5 love languages are Physical Touch (for example, pats on back, hugs), Quality Time (for example, playing a sport together or going out for a meal), Acts of Service (for example, driving him/her to school, arranging an activity for him/her after school), Giving Gifts (for example, a small gift that reminded you of him/her) and Words of Affirmation (for example, giving encouragement for his/her effort in something). Through trying these love languages out, see what your child responds best to.

L – Listen Teenagers may not want to talk often but make yourself available to listen if he/she does. This means listening and not judging, listening and not looking at your phone, listening and trying to understand. Listen with the lens of empathy and seeing things from their perspective. Listen with the heart of compassion and understanding. Listen without belittling what you hear or dismissing the problem shared or offering a quick-handed solution. Really listen.

Parenting teenagers can be one of the hardest stages of parenting. But keep communication going, and keep loving and keep it REAL.


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