Dr Asha Pemberton
The quality of a teen’s relationship with their parents contributes to overall development and sets the tone for their future lives. A significant part of nurturing this bond is parent-teen communication. By starting early and keeping it often, parents encourage young people to be open and honest.
Additionally, parents are themselves required to be honest with their teens. Trust is vital for any relationship, but especially between parents and their children. Lying to a child will decrease credibility as an authority figure and thus make parenting and rule enforcement that much more difficult. Conversely, being consistently open and honest gives a tween or teen no reason to doubt you.
Parenting teenagers involves a range of experiences. That said, there will be times when it is good and even recommended for parents to be candid about mistakes made through their own adolescence. Indeed, every parent was once a teenager themselves and did make mistakes.
Although many things have changed for this generation, the general range of issues that affect teenagers has remained the same. Allowing teens to see the vulnerable sides of their parents helps to build trust. It reinforces that they are not perfect and that despite difficult times or poor decisions, it is possible to be resilient, make changes and thrive. Young people learn directly and indirectly from their parents and their own childhood experiences.
In order to achieve this level of openness, parents need to constantly balance the opportunities taken to speak and those used to listen. Timing is everything. As young people develop and grow, they are better able to understand more complex topics and recollections.
In earlier adolescence, therefore, allowing young people to speak and share their thoughts and experiences is critical to developing trust. Parents must be available to listen, without judgment and with an open mind. As they get more mature, teens are more amendable to understanding the nuances of life. Then, parents can use their lives to share examples of challenges or difficulties which lead to moments of growth. Older teenagers are able to understand these more abstract concepts.
To develop a more communicative relationship with tweens and teens, dedicate time to just talk with no distractions. If they introduce a sensitive topic, set aside your own emotions and be receptive to theirs. Show them that you are listening and understanding and avoid shame. Embarrassment will discourage young people from being frank and serves only to strain the relationship. Although not always easy, it is beneficial in the long run because it lays the foundation for them to grow into healthy adults.
Timing is critical. Through the busyness and fatigue of life, it still remains important to initiate conversations at the right time. If a teen is already stressed due to challenging emotions, grief or overwhelmed, they may not be capable of processing a heavy discussion. If forced, the outcome of conflict, aggression or reclusion may result.
While some matters simply cannot be delayed, it is critical for parents to choose the best possible location, environment and timing for specific conversations. While there is no one golden rule that guides parent-teen communication, overall it is important to start a habit of dialogue early in their lives and keep it as open, honest, supportive and often as possible.