"Don't ask questions when you don't want to hear the answers."
Communication can be hard for parents and teenagers alike. Both parties are looking for ways to be heard. Yet sometimes, as the above quote from a teenager shows, the barriers go up and it's difficult to know what to do next.
There are a range of things parents can do when communication seems to have broken down with their teenager. For instance, it can help to involve other people you trust. Often teenagers relate well to other adults in the family network even if they are battling with their parents. It's a time when older brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents or even a close family friend can have an impact.
Ask yourself whether it would help if one of these people came in and listened and talked to your teenager. Many parents also find it useful to be able to talk through their own reactions and emotions when they feel shut out by their teenager. Just talking about it to a close friend or another family member can help to get your life back into perspective
Sometimes when parents try to talk with their teenager they feel as though they're getting no response at all. When this happens it's likely that your teenager is still listening even if they're not saying anything.
If you find yourself in this situation, say gently what you need from them and why you need it. And remember to tell them you love them. It's important to separate their behaviour from them as a person. It's just like when they behaved badly as children -- it didn't stop you loving them.
If you still can't engage them tell them they can come back to you when they feel like talking. And if they don't, say that you'll come back to them in a few days' time.
Sometimes writing things down for a teenager can be useful, for instance writing them a special letter on special paper. Make it a positive letter, like this: "I have some important things to say to you because I really love you. And because you don't always hear me I've written these things down." In this way you can get your words right and stay focused on the issues. You can both then talk about it.
Another option, if you seem to have reached an impasse, is to ask a mediator to help you find a resolution that is acceptable to both of you. Mediation is a structured, problem-solving process that produces a mutually agreed plan. Unlike other processes, it operates more at a "head" than a "heart" level and concentrates on the present and future rather than the past.
Mediation enables both parties to have their story heard and to clarify and focus on the issues at the heart of their argument. It also gives parents and teenagers the skills to deal with future disputes.
If you would like to talk to a counsellor or mediator about communicating with teenagers contact Relationships Aotearoa on 0800 735 283 or telephone your local office.