There are five communication skills that are so important to parenting a teenager that the failure to use any one of them – even just once – can cause problems in a relationship. My research of the literature has taught me that there are actually nearly 100 different interpersonal skills. But if you’re parenting or mentoring a teen, you can can focus on these five.
Listening. Not just paying attention and hearing what the teen says, but observing the nonverbal messages, too, and checking to make sure that what you think the teen is trying to communicate is actually what they intended. When you don’t listen this way, you can misunderstand. A teen who is ignored or misunderstood is likely to assume that the adult is either clueless or doesn’t care – thoughts which can widen the gap between parent and teen.
Stimulating Thinking. Most adults think they know more than the teen, and visa-versa. In my opinion, the most important thing an adult can do for teens to prepare them for adult life is to get them to learn how to think for themselves. This is not the same thing as giving advice or solving a problem for a teen. This is about asking them questions that get them thinking about their situation.
Guiding Learning. A lot happens to a young person during adolescence. A secret: just because it happens to them doesn’t mean they learn anything from it. The skill involves asking five questions that guides a person to learn from an experience. Like the above skill, it stimulates critical thinking.
Giving Feedback. Because teens are young and unformed and enduring a difficult time of life, their self-esteem is vulnerable. And low self-esteem can make them susceptible to peer pressure and can degrade their desire to achieve. Criticizing teens makes self-esteem worse, and they resent it. Instead, giving feedback, both constructive and positive, focuses on behavior in a way that avoids criticism.
Giving Encouragement. Teens make a lot of mistakes. They have a lot of problems. They fail a lot! They have a lot of bad days. People need encouragement during the teen years more than any other time of life. Encouragement can help young people recover from what they perceive as adversity. If you do it right.
Have I ever known a parent who had all five skills? Sorry, no. Thirty years ago, when my boys were teens, I had two of the skills. But I rarely used them. And it cost me. And so it goes.
Have I ever known a parent who had even one of these skills? Yes, but rarely. Very rarely.
So this is where we are today. It’s a grim situation, and a big part of the problem with teens doesn’t lie with the teens at all. It’s the parents. They make gross communication mistakes 95% of the time, with awful consequences. Being an inept communicator can erode a parent-teen relationship.
So I’m just going to throw down the gauntlet here. If you’re a parent of a teenager, and if you really care about the future happiness and success of your child, I challenge you to take responsibility to improve the way you communicate. A good start would be to click on the links above and learn more about the skills. Another would be to get the free ebook on coaching skills. Depending on how much you care about your teen, you’ve got work to do.
Copyright © 2012, Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D.