Parents and teenagers need to be able to talk together. Yet in so many families this turns out to be a major problem. Parents feel the teenager won’t listen, and teenagers feel exactly the same: that their parents aren’t listening.
One 14 year-old girl put it like this:
"My parents expect me to tell them everything, but how can I when all they do is nag? Why haven’t you done this? Why haven’t you done that? That’s all they say."
Why does this breakdown in communication occur?
Parents have the sense that the young person really prefers to talk to their friends. They feel that they, the parents, do not matter anymore. They feel rejected and pushed aside. They feel that the young person no longer has any respect for their opinions, and this is hard to take.
On the other hand the teenager feels that he or she is still being treated as a child. The parent does not want a conversation, but only wants to dig for information or tell the young person what to do.
It is not surprising that these misunderstandings lead to a situation where both sides feel irritated and frustrated with each other. What can we do about this?
I have recently written a book entitled: “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?” When I mentioned the title to a group of parents, one of them asked: “Well, what’s the answer then?”
Of course there are many different answers, but here are some thoughts.
- Timing is critical. Your teenager won’t always talk at the time that is best for you;
- Your teenager won’t talk about the things he or she considers to be private;
- Interrogation doesn’t work. Your teenager won’t talk if he or she thinks conversation is going to turn into interrogation;
- Your teenager won’t talk if he or she feels you are busy, distracted or likely to be interrupted.
All these are reasons why a young person might not talk, yet teenagers do want to talk to their parents. How can parents and teenagers learn to talk to each other?
Here are some top tips for parents:
First, parents of teenagers do matter. You matter hugely, it is just that you have a different role from the one you had during the early years. Parents matter because they provide the endorsement, the love and the structure that makes a young person feel safe and secure. Without this the teenager will be lost.
Secondly, teenagers do want to talk to their parents. They want to talk, and they will talk, but in a way that feels safe to them. This means the adult talking in a manner that makes the young person feel their views are respected. Good communication has to be a two-way street. Talking and listening go hand in hand.
Thirdly teenagers do need some privacy. Teenagers need space and time to sort things out in their own minds. This means they will talk to their parents, but not necessarily at the precise time that suits the adult.
In conclusion if you, as a parent, can step back and think about the needs of the teenager, communication will improve. You have a key role to play. If you can listen, your teenager will talk.
We have lots of tips that can help, please check out our advice page on rules of good communication with teenagers. It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
This article was written by Dr John Coleman is a clinical and developmental psychologist. He is a Trustee of Family Lives with a long-standing interest in support for parents of teenagers.