Dr. Erin Pannell, Ed.D., LPC-S, RPT-S

Enhancing Communication With Your Teen

A teenager’s life makes a dramatic shift between their 12th and 13th birthdays. Socially, they are no longer considered children and symbolically, it is their first step into the daunting adult world. But next to the physical changes that ravage through their developing bodies, there is an even more important change — psychological.

At this age, the separation-identity crisis begins. One minute your child wants to talk and confide in you, the next minute they are literally shoving you out of the bedroom and demanding their privacy, leaving parents in a quandary to find the balance between giving space and imposing influence. Unfortunately, most parents fade to the outer fringes of the child’s life — a detrimental mistake.

During a teenager’s development, it appears as if the peer group holds more influence than the parents, but appearances can be deceptive. Although peers occupy the majority of teenagers’ time (via school and after school or weekend activities), more time does not mean more clout. The peers’ impact stretches only as far as clothing, confidences, music and make-up. When it comes to the most important aspects of the child’s life — morals, values, college decisions and money, just to name a few — he or she will usually turn to a parent for input, but only if the parents and teenagers have a continual flow of communication. For some families, finding time to communicate can often be problematic in itself.

A teenager spends seven hours each day at school, which, with small desks, crowded hallways, 7-8 assignments due the following day, can be an extremely stressful environment. Working in conjunction to this are the emotional and physical changes that have a teen riding a hormonal roller coaster.

But, believe that are not, there is a positive side to teenage angst. Daily stresses serve as opportunities for parents to open the doors of communication. One of the easiest ways to find a time to talk is during family meals.

Family meals guaranteed time with your teen. Consistency is already built-in and gives the teen a sense of security, which promotes safety and allows them the opportunity to open up and reveal both the happy and painful times of the day.

If your teen is hesitant to open up, began the conversation by disclosing something that happened in your own day, or, if your child reveals a particularly painful event, share something of the similar nature from your own teen memories. As adults, we can still remember those rough and turbulent times of adolescence. By sharing similar stories, it normalizes the teen situation and promotes parents-child intimacy.

These daily moments of communication are basic building blocks toward safety and trust between parents and teens. If a strong foundation is built, then when decisions that hold lifelong consequences arrive, the teen will feel comfortable and confident in asking his or her parent for guidance and direction.

The teen years are probably the most difficult times for both parents and children. Each must learn to adjust and change, but the parents’ time and influence can remain just as vital as it was when they were toddlers. Don’t underestimate your importance. Despite the importance of the peer group, parents remain the most trusted people in a teen’s life. Stay in touch and use your influence for their success.

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