I feel like I am losing my soon-to-be teenage son. He does not talk to me anymore. He used to be my shadow. I do not know what has happened. Is there anything I can do to help bring us closer before we grow completely apart? Mark, New Hyde Park
There are many aspects to successfully raising a teen, from building their confidence/self-esteem, to supporting their need for individuality and setting proper limits, but we will focus on “communication” to assist with your concerns. Effective communication is critical to all relationships (kids, spouse, friends, coworkers), and is arguably the most important aspect of being a parent of teens.
Communication is not limited to just talking with your teen (or worse, talking at them). Of course, listening is essential. Also, picking-up on non-verbal cues (body language) is an important aspect of understanding children as they get older and look for independence. They become more sensitive to being “bothered” by their pestering parents, so looking for non-verbal cues may help better time/adapt your approaches (to converse).
Personally, I feel that proper listening is overlooked in all relationships, and teenagers, in particular, can be particularly sensitive to being heard (and that means not as a “child”). “Active listening” is an extremely effective technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret and evaluate what they hear. This technique strengthens cooperation, fosters understanding and goes a long way to reducing conflict.
When interacting, people are often not focused on the speaker, they could be watching TV or playing with some portable electronic device or distracted by thinking about what they want to say next (especially common during disagreements). [One tip: if you find yourself unable to stop yourself from interrupting someone when they are talking (i.e., you find yourself chomping at the bit), you are not listening.]
Active listening can be used to address common communication issues. Specific steps to active listening: Stop what you are doing; look at the speaker (eye contact with your child); provide complete attention; listen carefully; and repeat/paraphrase what you think you heard. Then, the speaker says whether the listener’s understanding was correct. If needed, the speaker is given the opportunity to clarify and the listener another opportunity to repeat, until the speaker agrees with the listener’s interpretation/understanding. In other words, your child speaks, you say what you think you heard and that process continues until your child agrees with your understanding.
Other small tips to foster communication include the following … Eat meals together and be present (this is not a good time for reading the newspaper or texting). Share news of your day’s (positive) events (not just complaints about the commute or coworkers). Try to include your kids in conversations with your friends. Involve yourself in your child’s interests (could include being the coach or just attending a practice session).
The key is showing that you care by keeping communication channels open. We are all better off when Parents R Talking and Listening.
For some further reading in this area, you may want to check out writings of Ellen Galinsky regarding kids’ answers to a survey about their relationship with parents and vice-versa.
Lastly, a special note to my fellow dads out there, Ms. Galinsky’s research has shown that Dads are particularly important during their child’s teenage years.
(Editor's Note: The opinions in this article are those of Parents “R” Talking. The opinions are not medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician about any changes you are contemplating.)