How Communicating With Your Teen Is More Than Telling Them What to Do

Many of the challenges in parent-teen relationships are rooted in poor communication. Dependence on assumptions and lack of clarity are significant barriers to effective communication. Eliminating your barriers in communication can profoundly impact your relationship with your teen. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

What is communication? Traditionally being a good communicator has meant that we “know the right words to say when the moment arrives.” Unfortunately, this definition of communication has been outdated for several decades. In my interpretation, communication is “the totality of the understanding that develops out of any encounter between human beings.”

Thus, communication includes the emotions produced, what is heard and understood, not just what is said, but also the visceral responses of both people’s bodies and countless other nuances. As you can imagine, communication on this level is not just what you say but the tone of your voice, the look in your eyes, and the way you are standing. It is ‘full contact communication’ and cannot be faked.
For instance, let’s say your teen is hiding information from you about something they did. If they believe that you will be angry if they reveal it to you, they will feel fear and resist telling you to avoid punishment. If they believe that they have violated the rules of the family, then they will experience shame and will do things to avoid being exposed. If they believe that they have violated their standards, they will experience guilt and do things to punish themselves. All these emotions, fear, shame, and guilt, may act as barriers to communication. However, the messages from each of those emotions are different. On the other hand, if they believe that you are a sincere, reliable, and a competent parent, they will more likely feel the emotion of trust and reveal things to you without concern.

One mistake many parents make is solely listening to the language used by teens. For example, if a teen yells at their parents and says, “I hate you,” the parent may take the words literally. The parents may feel disappointed or offended and feel they are doing a thankless job because they have put a sincere effort into raising their child. If we listen only to the words being expressed, what is often missing is the emotion generating those words and the way the teen’s body is animated by that emotion. It could be the teen is feeling frustration or irritation. If so, the underlying message is not that the teen hates their parent, even though that is the word used. In other words, when you step into the role of your teen’s coach, you must actively listen to their words and be aware of the emotions and body language associated with their words.

Free eBook for Parents: How Can You Coach Your Teen to Become More Emotionally Intelligent? 

Download our free eBook for parents to learn a different interpretation of emotions that illustrates how they are a valuable source of information for you and your teen and support you both to make wise choices.

About the author 

Dan Newby

Dan is a best-selling author of 5 books on emotions, a social-emotional learning consultant to U.S. school systems, a certified professional coach with 9000 hours of coaching experience, an international speaker, and a thought-leader in the domain of emotions and emotional literacy. Dan was a Senior Course Leader for Newfield Network for eight years. In those years he led coach training programs in the U.S., Amsterdam, and at the University of Calgary. He has worked with several school systems in the U.S., global commercial enterprises, and NGOs. Dan’s passion for elevating emotional literacy fuels his writing, teaching, and development of games to help people learn the value of emotions and the many ways they enrich our lives. His quest for emotional skills development combined with his work as an ontological coach and CEO of one of the premium coaching schools globally helped him move deeper into this territory of learning and become the teacher he is today. Dan was born in the U.S. and has lived in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

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