12 Roadblocks to Communicating With Your Teen

Parents want to talk with their teens but teens are often hesitant to approach their parents. Part of our teens’ hesitancy may stem from responses they have received from us, their parents, in the past. Perhaps past responses have communicated a lack of trust or acceptance. Maybe they felt blamed by us or made to feel wrong by our response. I’m sure we, as parents, do not intend to send those messages; but we do, even if we do so unintentionally. And, those subtle, unintentional messages put up roadblocks to communication. They close the bridge to intimacy with our teen. I want to warn you about 12 such communication roadblocks that Thomas Gordon identified. Once you know them, you can work to avoid them…and increase the communication with your teen. Here they are:

      ·    Excessive commands and directives communicate a lack of trust in our teen and a disbelief in their ability to do what is right or needed at the moment.

·    Constantly warning and threatening our teen with consequences builds a wall of fear between us and them. When we warn and threaten our teens, we build resentment and invite our teen to test the real bite (the truth) of the warning or threat.

·    Moralizing and lecturing often increases feelings of guilt in a teen—a sense that he is “bad.” Communicating in this way often leads to rebellion against the “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts” that parents generously sow throughout the moralizing lecture.

·    Giving solutions and unsolicited advice sends the message that we have no confidence in our teen’s judgment or ability to find a solution independently. If teens “buy” the message about their lack of ability to solve problems on their own, they may become overly dependent on others.

·    Giving logical arguments can backfire, sending the message that we believe our teen “doesn’t know anything.” Constantly giving logical arguments makes our teen think we consider them stupid, inadequate, or inferior. And, a teen may go to drastic measures just to prove the argument wrong and so prove his point.

·    Criticizing (judging) and blaming makes a teen feel inferior, unworthy, devalued, and bad. Critical, blaming statements evoke counter-criticisms from teens in an effort to save face. Criticize, judge, or blame and welcome an argument. 

·    Praising can have several negative effects. Check out How to Ruin Your Child with Praise
to see some of these negative effects.

·    Name-calling, ridicule and shame all have a devastating effect on any teen’s self-image.

·    Analyzing and diagnosing (i.e., telling a teen what their motive or feeling is) sends the message that “I know you better than you know yourself. If you disagree, you are wrong.” This intrusive communication style only leaves one way for a teen to become their own person—rebel!

·    Reassuring and consoling discounts your teen’s emotions and sends a message of our own discomfort with difficult emotions. It informs our teens that our emotional comfort is more important than accepting their emotional struggle and connecting with them in that struggle.

·    Questioning and interrogating…who likes to be interrogated? Many teens shut down in response to what they perceive as too many questions. Try sitting with a little silence and allow your teen time to talk.

·    Distracting and diverting can make teens feel like you are minimizing their pain, excitement, concerns, or joys. They feel unheard and devalued.

 When parents consistently respond to their teen in these 12 ways, walls arise, roadblocks get put in place, communication suffers, and intimacy falters. You might be asking, “If these 12 things block communication, what can I do to enhance communication?” I’m glad you asked! To enhance communication, use “simple door-openers.” Respond with statements that open the door to more communication…statements like “really,” “That’s interesting,” “Hmmmm.” These “simple door-openers” reveal your interest in and acceptance of what your teen is saying. They focus on your teen’s ideas, feelings, and judgments rather than your own (See 5 Ways to Look out for Number 1). That paves the way for conversation, bridges the communication gap, and creates intimate relationships!

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