Helping Teens through Tough Times

Communication between high school students and parents is often strained or difficult. With busy lifestyles, it’s easy to drift apart and become disconnected from one another. Parents may find that teens are independent and want to spend less time with them while teens feel that they aren’t understood or that their parents are too busy to care. When your teen is going through a tough time, there are ways to reach out and reconnect.

Never stop trying
Don’t let the silence, eye rolls or sighs put you off; just keep talking to your teens and keep telling them that you love them. Keeping the doors of communication open mean they will turn to you when they are really in need. When they shut you out, don’t be discouraged, just keep talking. “Parents shouldn’t misinterpret a lack of response to mean that their kids aren’t listening,” says Dr. Robert Blum, director of the adolescent health program at University Hospitals in Minneapolis.
Take every opportunity to talk. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, rather talk to them every time you see them and always tell them that they can talk to you whenever they need to.

Really listen
As a parent, your natural instinct is to want to help your students to deal with situations or to act when they have been hurt. Their fear of you doing something that they will find embarrassing (i.e. calling a teacher who has upset them or calling a bully’s parents) could be the very reason they don’t open up to you. If your students have been keeping you out of the loop, it may be time to practice active listening.

Active listening is about the hardest thing any parent can do because it requires you to really listen. That’s all; no judgement, no advice, no action – only empathy. This may sound unreasonable to you (if you’re saying; “but I am a parent, that’s my job”, then this is for you), but it’s the best way to break through barriers. If your student feels like you don’t understand them, active listening is a great way to change that perception. It doesn’t mean you can never give advice again, but it does help open the lines of communication so that they will once again be open to advice from you. If your teen feels like you understand them, they are far more likely to listen to your suggestions.

What is active listening?
Active listening entails you really hearing what they have to say. If you interrupt, do so only to ask about details or for added explanations. When your student has finished talking, repeat back salient points to show that you have understood, for example: “So what you’re saying is that your math teacher laughed at you when you got the answer wrong?”
Ask how they felt about the situation and what they plan on doing next. Don’t offer advice unless they ask you for it.
Make eye contact with your teen when they are talking and watch your tone when you respond.
Ask questions that elicit a response and, if they are not forthcoming, don’t get frustrated. Rather tell them that you would really like to hear more about the situation and that they are always free to talk to you.

If it sounds like you’re doing all the hard work here, you’re right! Keeping the lines of communication open during the difficult teen years is hard going, but totally worth it in the long run. Patience, perseverance and a genuine desire to communicate will pay off.