How to talk to your children

Source: APA

Parents usually, if not always, want their children to behave appropriately and responsibly. Unfortunately many parents have forgotten the curiosity that characterizes the teenage stage of life. We must also remember that teens experience hormones in turmoil, and physical and psychological changes are inevitable. Therefore, the behavior of young people changes, which can create problems in the way parents and children interact, often leading to negative consequences in their relationships.

There are techniques and interventions that teach parents how to have healthy, meaningful conversations with their children, especially during this phase in their lives. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers several tips on what parents can and should do to improve their communication with their teenagers. Despite the teenagers’ complaints, young people need and want adults to be part of their lives. Parents need to learn how to provide support and guidance and protect their children on their way to maturity.

To teach, guide, and advise teens successfully it is important to know how these teenagers can channel their energy and creativity into healthy activities. The following suggestions, offered by the APA, may be helpful when talking with adolescents:

• Devote time to ask questions and listen to their answers without judgment.

• Ask questions in which they do not feel threatened. Choose one or two questions to help them define their identity, such as what do you enjoy doing in your spare time and what are your hopes for the future. Listen without judging; listen more, and talk less. This allows the teenager to understand that you value their opinion and, consequently, increases the confidence he or she has in you. (Forgatch, M., & Patterson, G. – 1989).

• Ask open-ended questions, questions that require a response beyond a yes or no. This encourages the adolescents to think about their ideas and options.

• Avoid questions that contain why since they tend to put people on the defensive (Pluttchik, R., 2000). Try to rephrase your questions to understand at what the teen is thinking rather than the reason for something the adolescent has said or done. For example, instead of asking, “Why did you say that?” Say, “It seemed you were trying to express a valid point when you said that. Can you help me understand what you mean?”

• Try to reflect the adolescent’s emotional state, unless it is hostile. If the teen seems enthusiastic or sad, let your responses reflect his or her mood. Reflection helps a person feel understood (Forgatch, M., & Patterson, G. – 1989).

• Casually model rational decision-making strategies. Talk about how you came to a decision in a given situation. Explain, for example, how you define a problem, generated options, anticipated positive and negative consequences, made the decision, and evaluated the outcome. Adolescents have relatively short attention spans, so be brief, and choose a topic of interest to adolescents. (Keating, D.P. – 1990).

• Discuss the ethical and moral problems that are in the news. Encourage the adolescent to think through the issues out loud. Without trying to change their views, wonder aloud how others might differ in their perspective on the issue and what might influence these differences (Santilli, N.R., & Hudson, L.M.-1992).

Remember that adolescents learn from what they see, not just what they hear. This is why we must set good examples that they can mimic. Treat adolescents with respect, and act responsibly in your relationships and interactions with them. Teach them to be prepared to address different circumstances in life, and explain that they can say no to alcohol, drugs, or any situation that may bring serious problems in life. Above all, always be good examples for your children.

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