See our slideshow here:
See our slideshow here:
Communication with Teenagers
You may have been used to having a child whom you have often needed to tell or
ideally show what to do, but now you have a teenager who needs to learn to be an adult.
They still need guidelines so that they know where they stand, and help with some
things too, but you can let them know that there are times when they can really help
you as well.
You could include them in discussions as if they were another adult about the place,
asking their views about family and other things. You might be surprised at their
insight, but you will need to be prepared to accept their honesty!
They need to learn how to deal with practical household things, and financial details
too, so if there are decisions that need to be made about how to handle bills, or set up,
fix, or replace something, do include them in that too. One day when they move out,
they will need to have an understanding of these things if they are going to be successful
at living independently. Of course they should help with the chores and DIY, but be
careful not to turn this into a battle, and make allowance for their busy study schedules etc.
It needs to be about willingly showing a little responsibility rather than doing things under
duress. You should make sure they understand that everyone has bits to do so that they
can see the fairness of it, and it might be an idea to change things around a bit every now
and again, for example offering them a choice of what they might like to get some practice
at this month or next. Try to gently teach them what they want to know, for example they
might like to make a meal for their friends, or for Dad’s birthday perhaps, or help make
sandwiches for your party (and be allowed to stay up a bit late to offer them around the
guests). Even adults need to be praised for the positives instead of always criticised, so
remember to notice if they do something particularly well or think of something for
If there are changes of job or working hours, or moves to be made, including your teenagers
in discussions helps them to understand your viewpoints and reasoning, a) so that they won’t
get the wrong end of the stick, and b) so that they won’t feel hurt or rejected or angry with one
or other or both of you. You can see how there could be a danger they might misunderstand
things if they were not included in discussion; for example they might make assumptions that
Dad made Mum suddenly go out to work when they were used to having her at home, when
really it might have been Mum who wanted to get into doing something. Or they might
presume that Dad was sacked when really he decided to give up a job to become self
employed, or to have a break for health reasons. It’s also obviously important to try to
give them an unbiased view of things, not a one-sided account from one parent or the
other, as that tends to manipulate their feelings and loyalties unfairly.
Even if there are family difficulties, it is far better to share what is going on. It’s
unrealistic to try to shield your teenager too much from the realities, whether the
issues are at home or in the big bad world out there. If you shield them too much
then they may get some very nasty surprises later, and possibly struggle to cope if it
is all too sudden.
Reasoning with someone you have helped to mature is the best way to come to
agreements about where they should be allowed to go and what time they will be
expected home, and what to do if they are in difficulty, etc. (for example, it’s okay
to phone home for a lift if they are stuck somewhere). Ask them what they think
reasonable rules are – you might be surprised at how responsible they can be if you
start out by treating them as if they are responsible. Show them the respect you want
them to show you, by negotiating firmly but fairly with them, instead of leaving them
to drift into a state of confusion and disconnection, or backing them into a position of
resentment and alienation. Young people need a strong sense of identity and belonging,
so it is ideal that they can still feel comfortable at home. Being brought into family
discussions makes them feel valued, and being helpful gives them a sense of responsibility;
both help them feel as if they belong.
Your teenagers need enough freedom to discover age appropriate things, like music
for example. If you are going to try and prevent them from going to an event they can
hear down the road, then don’t be surprised if they disobey you and sneak out. Try to be
realistic, then it is easier for them not to be tempted to defy you. Far better to sit down
and say that you realise that they ought to be allowed more freedom as they grow up,
and say that you trust them, and hope that they will always feel able to come to you if
they get into any tricky situations. Ask them to let you know if they feel the rules need
re-negotiation as they prove themselves, and if they have any questions anytime at all.
Even much younger children can be really good at understanding situations. When my
lads were still at junior school I would ask them why they thought it was wrong to do
certain things, to check their understanding, especially if something was dangerous.
I also sometimes asked them what punishment they thought they deserved for a
transgression and they were really harsh on themselves. Even as toddlers standing in
the shopping trolley, I would ask them why they thought it was not a good idea for a
mother to buy the sweets her child was yelling for – and they knew well enough that if
you bought them under those circumstances, then the child would always know in future ~
that if he hollered loudly long enough he would ultimately get what he wanted. So I would
reward good behaviour with a treat rather than the other way around, sometimes as we
left the shop and sometimes later – they knew I would be fair. We used to have a red
plastic cake container that we kept those miniature versions of chocolates in, and also
little boxes of raisons (which they loved), and if it had been a good day they were often
allowed to pick a ‘red tin goodie’ after supper. They would help choose the goodies for
the ‘tin’ in the shop, and that of course was a good opportunity to show how it was a good
idea to go for the special offers – 3 packets for the price of 2 meant the tin was fuller
and there was more choice. They were really good at judging when they needed to go
to bed too, so showed good signs of developing self-management skills.
So, I always say that children and young people ought to be given a lot of credit for their
understanding and good judgement, and consulted on things whenever possible.
Obviously you do not want to stress them by giving them too much inappropriate
information too early, but introducing things gradually makes it a lot easier for them to
grow up sensibly. You wouldn’t want everything to come as a big shock all at once later on
would you? Of course, spoiling people of any age can turn them into lazy users or even
manipulative control freaks, so you wouldn’t want to do everything for them anyway.
It doesn’t do them any favours in the long run as, apart from not learning anything, they
don’t have a chance to develop self respect or satisfaction through achievement and inclusion,
so they can become sullen, and bored too. It is important to help them develop self esteem
in a balanced way, giving them the chance to try things, and win praise, but not so much that
they become over inflated either. We want them to gain confidence but not become too
Our Young People can become quite distressed and confused about life as they come
across so many new things going on. They tend to be quite sensitive about what is happening
in the world as they are trying to make sense of life and what it might mean to them, and
figure out what they want to do. Things like wars, third world suffering, animal welfare,
environmental, ecological, and economic issues, powerful people getting away with things
they shouldn’t, etc, can all be great cause for concern. It is no good trying to brush these
things under the carpet as that will not gain you respect; your young person does need to be
able to discuss them properly, form opinions, and consider things they might be able to do
to help change things, otherwise they might become depressed, or cynical. They might also
be wondering why your generation has allowed these things to happen. If you don’t really
know how to deal with these issues, then at least help find them places and people they can
turn to for information and advice. Lots of organisations offer online information as well as
actions that can be taken, such as the chance to sign petitions or get involved in fundraising.
Teenagers also ideally need events to mark and celebrate their transitions into adulthood,
things that offer real meaning, that touch the deep person inside, so plan birthdays etc carefully
I have workshops to help with this transition, and information will be in one of my forthcoming
books, but in the meantime I will aim to write more articles about it. Young people might like to
do some things that are a bit different or special to help them on their journey like rock climbing,
martial arts, canoeing, etc –something to help them focus on a mind, body, spirit level, to
integrate all these aspects of themselves into a balanced being.
Sometimes you might want to have a meeting with you, your partner, and one teenager at a time,
for discussion or debate. Ask them to suggest topics to bring to the table, and you can do the
same, so you sort of have an agreed agenda. You should make an effort not to sidetrack too
much so that you can focus on what you agreed, and don’t get into areas you haven’t prepared
for, or get caught up in emotional slanging. Everyone should be prepared to consider everyone
else’s feelings and viewpoints, and try to understand why they think and feel that way. Don’t try
to coerce people to agree with you, or try to lay down any laws. Everyone should be allowed to
question or challenge, as long as it is done politely. Who knows what you might learn from your
If you are coming to these sort of ideas late, when your teenager has already become
frustrated and bewildered, and there may be behavioural issues at home or at school or
both, then you could try explaining to them that you did not know what to do before but
that you want to try now. You could ask them to help you to know how to help them.
It would probably make things worse if you said “You need to do this…. Or that…. Or
else…..” Surely it would be better to say “What do you think we could do to help?”
Even if they reject you now (due to their pent up frustration or other emotions) don’t give
up, just say that you will be there for them if they want to approach you when they are
ready. You can then suggest “Let’s sit down and discuss what we can (realistically) do to
make things work out better for everyone”. Another suggestion could be, “We would
like you to help us understand how you feel and what you think about things so that we
can try to help…… “ There might also be a good time to point out that parents just don’t
always know that much about being parents, no one gets training, it’s just something you
try to learn how to do as you go along. This can often defuse blame and anger in both
directions, as they suddenly realise that you can’t actually be expected to know
everything, and by the way, neither can they. So hopefully we end up with both parties
now being willing to try again, because after all you do still care about each other or you
wouldn’t be having the conversation.
I don’t think it ever hurts for young people to know if we are struggling a bit with things,
it means that they will recognise that it isn’t an ‘us and them’ situation, we are all in this
life together, and it would be really great if we could be a team. Of course, you don’t
want to overdo it and fall to pieces in front of them, just be natural. A lot of the time
I think that people are too afraid to open up and share their feelings because they don’t
think that others can understand or empathise, so it makes them feel vulnerable to
ridicule; but actually it makes us all more human.
If there are things that parents find too difficult to handle themselves, then there is
nothing wrong with turning to outside help.It is far better than letting things slide.
You may find that a grandparent or uncle might be the right one to help, or it might
be the parents of one of your young person’s friends that they feel more at ease with,
or maybe even a professional mentor, or perhaps someone via school or college might
have the relevant experience. It is that much easier for someone who is a bit detached
from the situation to bring a clearer perspective to things, so don’t feel jealous or
inadequate, just be grateful that your young person is getting some help. Too often
in today’s society, families have been separated by having to move for a job, or other
reasons, so it is sometimes not so easy to access extended family support, which puts
all sorts of extra pressure on parents anyway. Just try to make any outside help seem
as normal as possible rather than stigmatise it. Whether it is official or unofficial it is
still essentially just a friendly ear, with perhaps some practical advice.
Hopefully you won’t have much problem, especially if you are already open to ideas such
as those expressed here. Even if there are issues now, try not to panic too much about the
future, because things can always be improved with a little effort. In the end, family love
usually wins through, and things get better sooner or later. Stuff can be forgiven or put
into perspective, especially once your young people have children of their own and they
find out for themselves what it’s like to be a parent!
See our blog – Helping Our Young People to Think for Themselves
Of course, when you’re getting to know someone you really like, you pay special attention to each other and to what you do together. You go out of your way to please, perhaps you even take time out of other things that you normally do. Then you get to a stage where you feel you know each other pretty well and you start to relax, and catch up with yourself a bit. That’s fine and it works really well a lot of the time, especially if you aren’t living in each other’s pockets. But even then it can sometimes start to appear to the other that you are taking them for granted….. for example if you are paying particular attention to another new friend and expecting your longer term friend to understand that this is just because you are making the effort to be inclusive, rather than meaning to exclude them. You tend to expect them just to know that they are safe in their established role as a friend or partner, and join in accordingly. But they night not feel that confident in certain situations, and you still need to pay enough attention to realise if they need encouragement or reassurance, or they might start to feel as if you are making a special effort for everyone else except them. Children might feel similarly that their mother is being especially nice to other children, and just mean or strict with them. I think we do tend to expect those closest to us to know that they are always the most special to us, but we should realise that they might not always be confident of this, especially if you are suddenly being less attentive than you used to be. When you have been around someone a long time you also tend to act as if you think they should know how you feel about everything, but no matter how much in tune you may be, there is lots of room for misunderstanding, particularly if their awareness is hampered due to them being tired or unwell, or preoccupied with an issue or task, or if you simply didn’t explain things properly. Quite often you may well be in tune enough to know what the other is feeling, or thinking, or talking about, but we should not take this for granted and get frustrated with them if we have not been clear enough about what we mean. It can only take a very small lapse in communication to create a huge misunderstanding – for example if your wife is talking about one thing and you start talking about another thing without specifying what, she may well assume you are discussing her topic and not realise that a new one has been introduced. Then later you might be surprised to find that she is adamant that you said something you know you didn’t, or that she did not respond to something you thought you’d specifically mentioned. Things can easily be misheard too, in the noise of offloading a van for example, she might have asked you “Should we leave these?” and you replied “Yes” because you thought she asked “Do we need these?” only to find that she has now left them behind. Try not to be too annoyed, just try next time to be more specific…. For example she could have said “Should we leave the box and the tape in the van?” or you could have said “Yes, I want everything upstairs, then at least she would have realised that you had misheard her first question. When we are busy, too often we are doing things at the same time as talking, so you can’t always hear if someone is walking away from you for example. It is useful to stop and do a checklist with each other at some point – “have we got everything now?” for example – and go through the list. Try to leave time for such checks as they often save a lot of time and/or trouble in the long run. Couples obviously tend to be around each other quite a lot, and even though you have chosen this situation, it can certainly be quite challenging to remain amicable. Humour helps, but it has to be real humour for both parties, the kind of stuff that lets things wash off, not a humour that masks bitterness or pain, as can sometimes be the case. You do need breaks from each other, time with other friends, time to pursue personal interests, and lots of trust to allow each other the freedom to do their own thing. Ideally you want to support the other in doing what they want to do, in being themselves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tagging along! Often people try to cling or control, or just butt in when perhaps they shouldn’t. Something else to watch out for here, is that things should work both ways, each should be given roughly equal support and leeway. A girl shouldn’t expect to go off with her mates and then complain when it is her fellow’s turn. A wife shouldn’t end up feeling that she gives way more support to her husband than she gets in return, or that he sees her as providing a certain role. If things do get out of balance we need to remind ourselves that we are responsible for making our own choices, so if we don’t speak up about it then we can’t complain if things don’t change…. We need to take the initiative to discuss it and ask for more help for example, or say that you will be doing less as you need the time to get on with some of your own stuff, for example, or that you need more rest. Everyone has a right to ask for consideration. I am not saying we all have to do things equally, obviously it often makes sense for one to do more of what one is best at, or to do more of one thing for example so that the other can get on with something they have a special skill for – it’s like a trade off – if I do the cooking and the dishes, you do the DIY. If one is earning more income from going out to work then it makes sense for the other to do more at home, and it may swing the other way next time. One person’s career should not be seen to be more important than the other’s unless you both agree that this is the case, each should be allowed the time to devote to this, and anything in your life that helps create a sense of personal fulfilment. Sometimes we might agree that one has priority for example if they earn a lot more for their time, but careers are not just about money, they are also about self worth and validation, and helping other out too, so this all needs to be taken into account. Obviously finances can be a tricky area – but if we are working as a team, then it is a team effort really too, so if the man earns a lot more perhaps he will agree that it makes sense for him to cover more of the costs, but that she will do more of the home chores for example – or if we are both earning then when we go out we should each pay a share. A woman should not just expect the bloke to pay! Fights for rights have been no bad thing but sometimes they have pushed us too far the other way, or confused us a bit – women who tend to want to be everything can end up stressing themselves out trying to prove that they can, when often it is better to make some logical choices. These are all things we need to discuss in detail with our partners as we all have our personal views and needs. It is not a woman’s fault if society still tends to deem that she earn less.
|By the way, I think that it is good to involve children to some degree in discussions that involve who does what or how the bills get paid. I don’t think we need go into a lot of detail, but I don’t think we should shield them from reality – or they will get a fright later on when they are suddenly faced with everything at once. I also think that is much better for them to understand how decisions are made, otherwise they might make dreadful assumptions – for example thinking that one parent is treated badly by the other when that isn’t actually the case as you have agreed to do things a certain way for certain reasons that seem good and obvious to you, but that they might never have thought of. They might think that a parent is a failure because they left a job for example if it isn’t explained that this was a choice that was made on purpose and why. They might think that one parent is ‘bad’ and the other ‘good’ simply because they know about some things and not about others. Later when they find out that there was actually more of a balance than they thought, they can then end up feeling guilty for having judged in the first place – even though they could not have known any better. Hopefully we learn to let things go as we mature – there just isn’t anything good about holding onto resentment or guilt. Hopefully our young people will eventually realise that being parents is a huge learning curve!|
Couples should ideally be friends as well as partners, and so have the potential to make a very good team, or functional unit – and so focus on communicating properly with each other from this point of view as well as on the more personal and intimate levels. Relationships based just on physical attraction can be pretty emotionally explosive, but then so can any relationship if we let things slip. Good communication is essential really, otherwise how can you work anything out together? I think no matter how good we might think we are at getting along, we always need to be careful, keep reviewing things, make sure we are treating each other with fairness, respect, and kindness. Sometimes it’s a good thing to remind ourselves when we feel tempted to criticize, that we also do silly things. “Do not judge lest ye be judged” is always a good quote to bear in mind. Couples and friends need to be tolerant of each other – not expect too much – we are all human, with human foibles, idiosyncrasies, and imperfections. We all get tired and tetchy sometimes, or forgetful, or locked into something we are focused on. Don’t expect your partner or friend to always be attentive and tuned into your needs, take the responsibility to stand up for yourself if you think there is something they are forgetting, but try to do it at an appropriate time, when they are likely to be able to listen properly. There is no need to be upset or take it personally, just remind them, or just do what needs doing if they are really too busy, and hope that they do the same for you when you forget something. There is nothing even to forgive, we are all innocent, bumbling along, having a try at life and love, and mistakes are bound to be made. [Obviously this is very different from someone deliberately deceiving – all we need is to be honest with each other, and love will keep us wanting to go on trying.] Yes, when you are really close up to someone you tend to notice all their ‘faults’ – but are they really faults? We all have them – they are just the way we are – yes we can all learn to improve our ways, but we are all on the way all the time, we never become perfect, except in the sense of being perfectly human, warts and all. Other mis-communications are omitting to explain something, for example, “I can’t do that job yet because I need the builder to finish the trimming before I can know the right measurements” will stop her wondering why he won’t get on with it. However, she also needs to remember that she shouldn’t expect him to get on with it, as he is bound to have his reasons. We also shouldn’t expect people to do things perfectly – they will simply do as they can. No one can do everything perfectly, and sometimes they may not be feeling well, or might be in a rush to get on to something else. Our priorities are different, so it can be good to explain for example “I’m going to have to make the dinner a bit later as I really need to finish this first”, or we could ask “Would you mind making dinner tonight as I’m really busy with……” and not just expect them to work it out for themselves. There is no good reason to start feeling contempt and disrespect for our nearest and dearest – if you love them, just accept them for who they are, and hope that they do the same for you. Try to accentuate the positive, giving praise as often as you can. We are all like children really, responding well if we are praised, and inclined to give up if we are knocked down too much. Be nice to each other, nurture what you have, appreciate it. Don’t be lazy, don’t let it drift, as that is when you do get into trouble. Keep being clear about the specialness, or risk losing it. Keep being clear about how you communicate and express how you feel, so that you can keep on working things out together. If you get lazy about communication this can start to cause huge problems and a build up of resentment. Don’t sit back and let poisons seep in, keep on top of things. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself when needed. Be true to yourself and step up to the mark for the good of the team. Love and trust and mutual respect are the gifts we have – don’t chuck them away, make the effort to keep things going as well as they possibly can.
| Other Communication Points:
So, if we pay attention to our communication, hopefully contempt will not arise, and we will be able to enjoy our familiar relationships as a continual blessing instead. It can be a good idea to regularly do a little reality check to remind ourselves of this.
by Julia Woodman