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Seven steps to better communication with your teen!

You probably already know that you can’t stop a motivated adolescent from using drugs/alcohol and making other bad decisions – all you can do is help them learn from the past and guide them toward better decisions in the future.

However, to guide - you need to communicate. If you can’t communicate effectively, then you limit your parenting abilities!

If you struggle in conversations with your teen, you’re hardly alone – few parents escape the adolescent years without experiencing communication stress.

  1. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to learn to bridge the generational gap.
  2. Fortunately, the payoff of better communication is a better relationship with your child and an improved ability to support your teen's recovery.

So though you’ll have to do the hard work of learning to speak – and listen – in a way that fosters real communication, if you can do so, you become a much stronger ally in your teen’s battle against relapse. Read on for 7 essential skills to practice.

7 Steps to Better Communication

1. Don’t Point out Obvious Negatives

Encourage problem solving.

Don’t point out obvious negatives – turn a negative into a positive by helping your teen use mistakes to learn better problem solving skills.

  • Don’t say, “Of course you didn’t make it to work on time when ride-sharing with your unreliable friend.”
  • Say, “Wow, that’s too bad…what are you going to do to make sure you don’t get into this mess again?”

The first response closes the conversational door, while the second avoids blame and negative feelings and keeps the dialogue flowing.

2. Stop Asking Loaded Questions

Stop beginning questions with phrases like, “What’s wrong with you….?” Or, “How could you….?”

These loaded questions put your child on the immediate defensive and sabotage your ability to have real dialogue.1

3. Take an Interest

You work hard to build communication skills and to get your son or daughter to come to you – so don’t sabotage things at the last moment by failing to pay attention.

No one likes to feel like a bore, so try to stay focused and engaged when your teen comes to you (put your phone down!) Give them your undivided attention, make eye contact and avoid hurrying body language.

  • Though you may not like the same movies, music, TV shows etc. as your child, by staying up-to-date with their interests you build a healthy neutral ground for natural conversations, which can help a lot when it’s time for more serious discussions.
  • Create situations that lead to natural conversations. Rather than calling your son out of his room for special ‘talks’, offer rides and pick-up services. Long car rides lend themselves very well to casual conversation.

If you initiate a ‘serious’ discussion, make sure going in that you have the time, energy and focus necessary to give your all to the discussion – timing is everything…

4. Stay Calm

If you can’t stay calm, get out of the situation.

It's easy to lose your cool with in-recovery teens, especially when your son or daughter comes to you and reveals poor judgment or behaviors!

  • But remember, if you blow-up when your child opens up, don’t be surprised if she gets a little more reticent to talk the next time around.

According to the experts at NIDA, If you get too angry/upset to have a calm discussion, get out of the situation – calm down, and then revisit the conversation when you’re able. 2

5. Create a Culture of Respect

Though your teen has made mistakes – treat him or her with respect and allow for positive expectations.

Create a culture in your home where all people get treated with respect and courtesy. Respect your teen’s privacy (knock before entering his room) and opinions and allow each person a little space for bad moods and silent periods.

When your teen comes to you with opinions that you find ridiculous – try to react as if you were responding to a good friend that you respect.  Your teen may hold different viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have good reasoning behind her positions.3

6. Listen and Keep an Open Mind (Don’t Accuse)

Listen to your child and keep an open mind about what they’re telling you – don’t automatically jump to reprimands and accusations.

  • If your teen feels listened to and respected, he’s more likely to seek your advice.
  • If he knows that asking for help probably earns him a lecture or punishment, then he probably won’t come to you.

As a general rule, when your teen starts a conversation, listen much more and talk much less!

7. Be Positive and Encouraging

Be the unending source of unconditional love and positive support that every teen – no matter how defiant, wants/needs/deserves.

  • Adolescent life is hard enough; as parents we need to take every opportunity to build-up, rather than tear-down.
  • Strive to make every interaction a positive one, or at least partly positive, by offering lots of positive feedback and encouragement.
  • Give lots of hugs, celebrate their accomplishments and make sure they always feel included in all family activities.

Counseling Is a Good Option

If you can't improve communication on your own - you should consider getting family counseling to restore a healthier communication dynamic.

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Page last updated May 07, 2023

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