Many parents are often nervous as their kids enter their teen years. They have heard the tales of sullen adolescents who are suddenly embarrassed to admit they even have parents, much less to be seen with them. While the hormonal changes your teenagers are going through probably make some of these behavioral markers a bit inevitable, don't despair. You can still maintain good communication with your children as they get closer to adulthood. You may just have to tweak your tactics.
Adjust Your Perspective
Throughout junior high and high school, your kids are learning to become independent adults. They will likely start pushing boundaries in more areas, and resistance to their actions may be met with anger or other negative emotions. As much as this behavior may test your patience, it is normal and healthy for this age.
One way to help ease the tension from these interactions is to update your own perspective on what they are going through. Are there new responsibilities that they're ready for? Are there restrictions that no longer apply or compromises you are willing to make to give them a broader scope of freedom? Review the house rules and boundaries to determine if they need to be refreshed to better reflect the changes in your teenagers' abilities and maturity. You may even consider including teens in the decision-making process to communicate trust.
Respect Their Boundaries
Your communication style with your children inevitably changes as they get older. For example, your kids may be very physically affectionate when they're younger but want more space when puberty kicks in. Watch for signs of pulling back when you try to hug them, and respect their bodily autonomy. You may even consider asking if they want a hug before moving toward them. This reinforces that they have a right to control what happens to them.
This respect also extends to their personal space. It's easy to forget that just because they live in your house, that doesn't make it OK for you to bulldoze your way into every nook and cranny. A simple courtesy such as knocking and waiting for permission before entering their bedroom, even if the door is open, shows them that you trust them and understand their need for privacy. This can reap great rewards when you need that trust in return.
It's always important to listen to your children, but it's even more crucial as they get older. Unfortunately, it may also be more difficult as they enter adolescence, particularly if they embrace one of the extremes of becoming withdrawn or hyperemotional in almost every interaction. Try to see past the behavior to the message they are really trying to get across.
It is also helpful to keep your own emotions in check. Try to avoid communicating in ways that you would not respond well to yourself:
- Interrupting to correct or give unsolicited advice
- Engaging in dismissive nonverbal behavior, such as eye-rolling or sighing
- Yelling or accusing
- Giving ultimatums
The older your children get, the more they are likely to expect their opinions to have weight. Demonstrating that you respect them enough to try to understand where they're coming from is more likely to keep the lines of communication open.
The main theme of communicating with teenagers is navigating how to encourage their independence while still ensuring that they stay within the guidelines of the family's rules and expectations. While it may be difficult to accept that they are more interested in spending time with friends than hanging out at home, this is a natural part of growing up. Becoming adept at the balance between autonomy and connection helps you communicate better with them as they mature.