Teenagers have lots of reasons for not listening. One of the most apparent ones is their belief that you couldn't possibly understand their situation, so your advice is flawed from the beginning. How would you know anything about fitting in with the Emo kids, getting dumped by your soul mate or putting up with dorky parents? When your teen has it in his mind that you're lame and inexperienced, everything you say is going to go in one ear and out the other. Teenagers do need their parents, however. Remember, you're one of the two most important people in his life, whether he wants to admit it or not. Your perception of him molds his perception of himself, and even if he continues to adamantly deny it, he does look up to you. More often than not, communicating with your teenagers is something that both parties involved consider very important but neither know how to do. Teens see their parents as older, nagging authority figures who don't listen but instead offer snap judgments and advice that's usually not wanted. Parents, too, see their teens as social enigmas, curious puzzle boxes that not even the smartest among us know how to solve. And yet, both are desperate to open up the lines of communication. You have little say in the matter, honestly. You can't force your teen to open up to you, but until he does and you've established that connection, nothing you say is going to stick. You just have to make yourself as open as possible to them, and hope for the best. When they're sitting down and you're each giving each other your undivided attention, you should feel fairly secure that they're ready to listen. Here are some tips for making yourself more approachable to your teens.
- 1. Avoid the urge to fight - If you let disagreements turn into all-out brawls with your teenagers, you'll lose lots of precious ground you're trying to gain. Many parents may believe that compromising with your teenagers to avoid all-out confrontation takes away your authority. As T. Suzanne Eller points out, though, allowing yourself and your child to lose control in a no-holds-barred battle impugns your authority even more. Be calm when your teenager is not, and turn away from a fight.
- Listen, don't just hear - Teenagers everywhere have the same problem. Although they want to open up to their parents, they know their parents won't really listen. Instead, they'll jump in halfway, offer some advice that's more an order than a suggestion, and think they've solved the problem. Oftentimes, however, teens just want you to listen to what they have to say. Don't drown out their half of the conversation, and don't dismiss what they're saying out of hand.
- Be patient - It may be hard, but you have to let your teens fully express themselves. Don't jump to conclusions and override them with your beliefs and suggestions. If you try to finish their sentences for them or assume you know what they're trying to tell you, you'll probably just frustrate them - enough, more than likely, to drive them away from the conversation.
- Be prepared to hear hard news - Your kids are teens, now, and they're dealing with complex, adult emotions and crises. If your son or daughter has something they need to talk to you about, you have to be prepared for the possibility that they need to talk about sex, drugs or any other adult issues. If you spring to the defensive, get angry and punish them for what they've done, you'll shut the door on them forever. Remember, you weren't much older than they are now when you first dealt with these issues. How understanding were your parents, and how did you feel when they freaked out about your confession?