The doors of communication are open! If not, here are some reasons why communication with teens is so important.
As a psychologist, I’ve often worked with families and some parents have expressed how difficult it is to get their teenager to talk with them. Sometimes parents express they get short answers to simple questions such as “how was school”. Often teens may reply “good”. Of course as a parent that is not sufficient. In today’s world when more kids are struggling with mental health challenges it is even unnerving when teens don’t want to open up.
The reality is that kids learn from a very young age if their parents are open to talking with them about certain topics or if they are too busy to have a minute to spend time talking with them. Research has shown that open parent-child communication is extremely important. For example, studies show that when parents engage in open and positive communication it can be a protective factor that reduces risk of psychological and behavior problems. Numerous psychological studies have found that the quantity and quality of communication between a parent and their child reduces risk of engaging in substance use or sexual behavior, low self-esteem, and poor academic achievement.
Another consideration is how parents communicate with their daughters compared to sons. In a study published in the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, the authors noted that female adolescents perceived their communication with both mothers and fathers to be more positive and open. Additionally, the study findings reported that open communication with parents protected children from experiencing school adjustment problems, low self-esteem, depression and substance use.
Tips for Improving Communication
Below are some suggestions on how to communicate with teens based on an article published by the Child Mind Institute:
Listen. If you are curious about what’s going on in your teen’s life, asking direct questions might not be as effective as simply sitting back and listening. Kids are more likely to be open with their parents if they don’t feel pressured to share information. Remember even an offhand comment about something that happened during the day is their way of reaching out, and you’re likely to hear more if you stay open and interested — but not prying.
Validate their feelings. It is often our tendency to try to solve problems for our kids, or downplay their disappointments. But saying something like “She wasn’t right for you anyway” after a romantic disappointment can feel dismissive. Instead, show kids that you understand and empathize by reflecting the comment back: “Wow, that does sound difficult.”
Don't be a dictator. You still get to set the rules, but be ready to explain them. While pushing the boundaries is natural for teenagers, hearing your thoughtful explanation about why parties on school nights aren’t allowed will make the rule seem more reasonable.
Give praise. Parents tend to praise children more when they are younger, but adolescents need the self-esteem boost just as much. Teenagers might act like they’re too cool to care about what their parents think, but the truth is they still want your approval. Also looking for opportunities to be positive and encouraging is good for the relationship, especially when it is feeling strained.
Control your emotions. It’s easy for your temper to flare when your teen is being rude, but don't respond in kind. Remember that you’re the adult and he is less able to control his emotions or think logically when he’s upset. Count to ten or take some deep breaths before responding. If you’re both too upset to talk, hit pause until you’ve had a chance to calm down.
Be observant. It’s normal for kids to go through some changes as they mature, but pay attention if you notice changes to their mood, behavior, energy level, or appetite. Likewise, take note if they stop wanting to do things that used to make them happy, or if you notice your child isolating themselves. If you see a change in your teen’s daily ability to function, ask them about it and be supportive (without being judgmental). They may need your help and it could be a sign they need to talk to a mental health professional.
Visit the Therapy for Black Kids website for possible referral sources.
Bireda, A. D., & Pillay, J. (2018). Perceived parent–child communication and well-being among Ethiopian adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 23(1), 109-117.
Early childhood is a critical time period in development when children begin to learn about their environment, develop a sense of self and explore how to express their emotions. While a huge part of development occurs prior to entering school, children continue to grow and develop as they encounter new life experiences. Positive relationships with parents help children develop trust, empathy, compassion and a sense of right and wrong.
It is important that parents foster social and emotional learning throughout early experiences. According to experts, when kids learn to work well with others, regulate their emotions and engage in problem-solving, they are better prepared to deal with life’s challenges and be more successful in school.
What Is Social and Emotional Learning?
Social and emotional learning (SEL) involves creating positive relationships and emotional connections as part of learning to help children develop the skills they need to be successful in life. SEL has often been emphasized in schools, given the amount of time spent in the classroom and the opportunities available to practice these important skills. SEL skills include having the ability to:
Strategies for Supporting SEL in Kids
Remember that life is unpredictable, and many children are learning by watching the actions of adults in their lives. Early childhood is also a critical opportunity to teach social and emotional skills. As kids grow and develop, it is necessary to prepare them to deal with uncertainty now to help them thrive in adulthood.
Visit the Therapy for Black Kids book recommendations for books on fostering SEL: http://bit.ly/T4BKbooks
A version of this was originally written by Dr. Erlanger Turner for the US News and World Report For Parents Blog
This blog is maintained by Therapy for Black Kids.