Anybody who has raised a child, knows that the teenage years come with their ups and downs, for the adults as much as for the young person.
If you recall your own teenage years, you might remember feeling like nobody understood you, especially your parents. A lot of changes happen at that age, with physical and emotional growth, learning through experiences, finding out likes and dislikes, discovering who we are. It is also a time of trying to gain more independence, which might lead to a period where the son or daughter would rather shy away from the parents’ opinions and decisions.
Living in the era of social media, teenagers today experience new pressures, such as keeping up a positive image online and securing a good number of followers. Over and above all of this, the year of the pandemic has not been easy at all on teenagers. With a lack of social events and person to person interaction, many young people have experienced a diminished sense of belonging, and a loss of identity.
As a parent, we may find it difficult to communicate with our adolescents, not knowing how to make them feel safe enough to talk and to discuss their current difficulties. Although it is a normal part of growing up, some individuals may need to open up to someone, but their parents may not be making the right moves to show their interest, or they may not have the right approach.
To get your teenager to feel safe and open to conversation, it is important to check in on them and ask about their day or week. Every parent has a busy lifestyle with work or chores, but showing interest in your teenager is highly beneficial.
Giving them a five-minute call or asking how their day was, and giving full attention during the conversation will help them move towards being more open to talk. Another aspect to consider when checking in with your teenagers is the way one asks questions. As a parent, you may notice that when you ask your teenager questions, they may shrug you off or reply with short answers.
Try not to ask questions which can be answered with monosyllabic answers like ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So instead of ‘how was your day’, try asking ‘how did you feel throughout the day/ during lunch/ on the way home’. This leaves more room for explanations and details. Show interest even if you are met with a short answer, and ask to explore further without being intrusive.
One thing that teenagers will not show is their wish for parents’ approval when having conversation. Even if they dismiss your comments, they do value your interest and appraisal. Praise is also important in bettering your relationship with your teenager, which contributing to their self-esteem and worth.
When your teenager eventually starts to open up, it is important to actively listen and give the conversation your full attention. Everybody wants to feel supported and not feel like a burden.
If you are trying to do some work or chores, ask your teenager if they would like to speak at another time so you can listen more. If you are able to stop what you are doing for just five minutes it will make all the difference. Conversations might come up at a time you do not expect them, like for example whilst driving. This may ease the conversation because you aren’t facing each other.
Be mindful of the signs that your teen wants to open up, and make an effort to listen. It is also important to not talk over them with your opinion and views as if they are inferior, but instead wait for them to finish speaking and then discuss what was said. One option could be to ask whether they would prefer for you to give your thoughts on the matter or to just listen. This creates a calmer, safer environment. Even if you disagree, explaining why rather than insisting on making your point will help them to speak and listen more.
Another important factor is keeping an open mind and putting judgmental attitudes aside. You might not always agree with what your teenager is saying or doing, but you can still communicate it in a way which is healthy for your relationship. Instead of using shame or guilt, explain your point of view and express your concern as a parent if you sense that there are dangers. Make your role clear, that you are there for them, but that you want them to be healthy and safe.
It is also important for parents to look for any warning signs from their teenagers. Do not take their actions for granted or dismiss red flags. For example, if your teenager is staying in bed and not cleaning their room, it may seem as if they are lazy or do not want to do as they are told.
However, depressive symptoms make it difficult for an individual to have motivation at times. It is important that if you are seeing signs of change in behavior, approach your teen and gently note your observations. The teenager will be more willing to explain if asked about it calmly and openly, rather than shouted at and accused of doing something wrong.
Lastly, sometimes your teenager is not coming to you for answers and solutions, but rather to be listened to and supported. Instead of handing out solutions to them and ending it there, ask them ‘would you like to work on this problem together?’ and ‘is there anything you would like me to help you with?’. Let them know that you will be there for them and show them that you acknowledge and have understood their emotions. Assure them that you will be there for them in the future.
It is also important to note that asking questions and talking are not the only ways to get you teenager to open up. Doing activities which you both enjoy and spending time together can also bring you closer together and create a safe space.
Being open, attentive and supportive are the most important factors which will help anyone feel more comfortable and willing to reach out and ask for help. Although new generations are constantly changing, it is important for adults to sometimes look over our own idea of right and wrong and take the time to explore and learn from our teenagers in supporting them on their journey to adulthood.
This article was written by Eloise Shoobert, Mental Health Recovery Officer, Richmond Foundation and was published on Newsbook on July 28th 2021.
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