Communicate Better With Your Teens

by PeggySue Wells

"The family reunion is in two weeks," I told my teen. But the morning of the gathering, she dressed for work rather than a picnic.

"Why didn't you schedule the day off?" I asked.

She rolled her eyes. "You didn't say you wanted me to go."

"When I told you the date, I meant that I wanted you to be there."

Being a mom to seven kids, I've stumbled and learned some things about communicating with my teens. Too often I thought I'd been clear about what I expected from them, but they completely missed my meaning. I've found that many misunderstandings are because we communicate differently, and often what I think I'm saying isn't what's actually being heard! So how do I help my teens understand what I want from them?

Be specific

"The trash needs to go out," I said.

"Yep," my son agreed.

Later I passed by and the trash was still there. "Why didn't you do what I asked?"

"You said the trash needed to go out," he said. "I didn't know you wanted me to take it out."

A technicality? Maybe. Yet hearing my son's observation helped me realize how often I spoke in generalities, expecting my teens to know what I wanted and then how I wanted them to respond. It's better when I assign what is needed to whom and clarify when it is expected.

Ask for their translation

"How did your test go?" I asked 15-year-old Lilyanna after her big literature exam.

"I failed. I have to retake the test."

My heart broke for her. I knew that class was important, so I suggested that she have a study session with some of the other students to pass the retake test. Immediately her expression clouded. When my teen feels insecure, she hears criticism, so I asked, "What did you hear me say?"

"That I have to redo the test because I'm stupid."

Wow! That wasn't what I'd said at all. Asking that simple question helped me hear her translation and allowed me to clarify what I meant.

When you ask your teen, "What did you hear me say?" after you've said something, you may be surprised at how often your teen has heard something you never intended to communicate.

Get it in writing

My son Josiah and I clashed constantly over chores and attitude. Knowing that different personalities require different forms of communication, I decided to take a different tactic. I took him out for man-sized hamburgers in a neutral setting.

"Let's find a solution to the tension between us," I said. "I love you and want your teenage years to be pleasant for us both. What ideas do you have?"

I pulled out a notebook, and as he offered his opinions, we assembled a list of his responsibilities and privileges. When we were finished, we both signed the paper. Later, when a question arose about expectations versus reality, we returned to that agreement. Those printed words clarified what I said and what I meant. Both of us liked his responsibilities outlined on paper so I wasn't perpetually reminding him, which was annoying to me and understandably sounded like nagging to him.

Stay positive

When I answered one of my teens with "but," such as "I know you want to go, but," I found that I invalidated whatever proceeded that three-letter word. My teen instinctively felt defensive, and our conversation became a debate about who was right.

When I responded with, "and," I communicated that I understood her perspective: "I know you want to go, and you have an orthodontist appointment at that time. Is there a later time to study with friends?" Although "and" doesn't work in every situation, it does work in many.

The "and" assures my teen that I've heard and value her, even if I have to disagree. When I express my expectations clearly — in a way my teens understand — I nurture an atmosphere of respect, value and responsibility. We communicate better, and even though my teens may grumble a bit, they know exactly what's expected of them.

Want something to talk about? Try using the "Conversation Starters — Make Every Day Count" app from Focus on the Family.

Copyright © 2014 by PeggySue Wells. Used by permission.

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