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Effective Communication with Your Adolescent Child


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Adolescence is a time of many changes. These changes impinge upon the adolescent’s physical, psychological and social developments. It can be a difficult time for both the adolescent and the parents. Effective communication between the adolescent and the parents is vital at this developmental stage of the adolescent’s life.

Parents need to take a proactive role in ensuring effective communication with their adolescent children. A little time invested in your child’s life to build up communication goes a long way in strengthening the relationship between your child and yourself.

Effective communication begins with the parents

Parents need to take the first initiative because, at this stage of your child’s life, his/her relational interest is usually directed to the outside world. Parents have to contend with other powerful influences in the adolescent’s life such as the mass media and their peers. If the parents are not proactive, they stand the risk of alienating their adolescent children.

To foster effective communication, parents must consider the following:

  1. The parents must decide that they want to have a relationship with the child and not just provide for the child’s daily physical and basic needs only.
  2. The parents must regularly set aside some time to spend with the child such as talking and listening and participating in activities with the child.
  3. The parents must deal with their own issues that are affecting their communication with their adolescent child.

Parenting is about having a relationship

Parenting is about building a relationship with your child. Your relationship with your child is the model upon which he/she fashions their other relationships especially the long term relationships such as marriage and eventually your child’s own family. Your relationship with your child has such a great impact upon his/her psychological and emotional life that it can either build up or tear down his/her self-esteem.

Many adolescents do not communicate with their parents because they do not have a relationship with their parents. This lack of relationship does not usually just happen overnight. It is the result of long term neglect. Sadly, many parents have good intentions. They provide for the physical needs of their children but neglect the relational aspect of parenting. This lack of relationship may strike like a thunderbolt especially when the adolescent exhibits a major behavioural or emotional problem that impacts the entire family. By that time, both the parents and adolescent find that they have been alienated from each other.

Spending time with your adolescent child

Spending time together is a good way of building up communication. Here are some suggestions of the “do’s” and “don’ts” when you spend time together:

  1. Set aside some “formal” time that is diarised so that it will not be replaced by other activities or distractions.
  2. Use as much “informal” time as possible, such as the time spent driving together in the car or during mealtimes.
  3. Listen more and talk less.
  4. Engage in the activity that your child prefers.
  5. Avoid an interrogative style of questioning.
  6. Give verbal feedback about their positive behaviour.
  7. Avoid harsh criticism.
  8. Do not bring up past problems constantly.
  9. Express your positive emotions to your child.
  10. Be conscious about building your child’s self-esteem. (Refer to the online product “Building your child’s self-esteem”)

Dealing with your own issues

Depending on your own childhood history, you may have certain unresolved developmental issues that impinge upon your relationship with your child. For example:

A woman, who was brought up in a family where her own parents did not value her, finds that she cannot be positive towards her adolescent daughter. In this case, the woman sees herself in her own daughter. She is projecting her own feeling of unworthiness onto her daughter and finds it difficult to relate to her daughter in a positive fashion.

A man who was brought up by a distant, aloof and harsh father is over permissive towards his son. In this case, the man is over compensating by living his childhood again through his son. He is not enforcing a firm boundary on his son because his father imposed too rigid a boundary on him.

In both the above examples, the respective parents need to deal with their issues before they can foster effective communication with their children.

Sometimes, parents may have their own assumptions about their adolescent children. This is not an uncommon problem. As the child grows from infancy to adolescence, the parents may develop certain ideas into which they pigeonhole the adolescent child. For example, some parents may regard their child to be a lazy, angry, gifted or placid child despite the contrary. The parents continue to relate to the child as though he/she has not changed. This is most unhelpful. It hinders proper communication between the parents and the child.

So, invest in your child’s life by building up the communication between your child and yourself. Learn to enjoy your child and remember to build a relationship with your child. Act now and do something differently!

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