Dear You: A Lesson on the Importance of Communication Between Teen and Parent
I recently got into an argument with my father regarding a cup that I had forgotten to put away. What seemed to be a simple issue with a quick solution soon became an hour-long discussion.
“You’re gonna be grounded if this happens again,” he threatened.
“It was an honest mistake; you’re blowing this out of proportion,” I countered.
Ultimately, the discourse resulted in me stomping upstairs and my father hibernating in his room, both of us pouting about how unreasonable the other was being. So, why did something so minuscule in the grand scheme of life turn into a full-blown fight? Why couldn’t my father and I see eye-to-eye? And, why were we unable to reach a satisfying conclusion?
The Problem at Hand
I want to point out that my experience is merely one of the millions, if not billions, of examples of conflict between parents and teens. Children and parents spend about 49 minutes fighting each day and have approximately 2,184 arguments every year. These findings came from a study that only applied to children ages 2-12, so it can reasonably be inferred that a teenager has even more arguments with their parents due to the hormonal and personal challenges they begin to face at that age.
Among these personal changes includes forming one's identity, an identity that will differ from the parents’ and might differ from one the parents envisioned for them. This inevitably leads to clashes among the parties. One is struggling to understand themselves and the other is coming to terms with the death of a child they previously believed in. The confusion of it all leads to frustration, and sometimes the more a child exhibits behaviors that differ from the parents’ or what is expected, the more conflict ensues as frustrations build for both.
And, the hormonal changes one faces during adolescence certainly don’t help the issue. During puberty, a teen’s brain literally morphs and grows as more connections are built and various regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, mature. The prefrontal cortex is involved in making rational decisions. Thus, because teens are still maturing, there are bound to be some questionable choices made along the way. In addition, the amygdala, the area of the brain that controls strong emotions, is activated more in adolescents.
Thus, teenagers tend to make decisions based on raw emotions in the heat of a moment instead of acting on rationale. This can be extremely frustrating for an adult when they attempt to understand why a teen made a given choice and are left with an answer that they perceive as “no logical reason”. The frustration only builds when the child feels that a parent does not understand their feelings. Thus, communication is the best way to resolve and prevent future conflicts between a teen and their parent(s).
Nevertheless, communication can be hard for everyone. What if the other person doesn’t understand? What if it just turns into another argument? These are rational and normal fears to have, so it is important to understand how to have a healthy and productive conversation. So, begin by laying down some ground rules. Establishing these with your parent or teen can help both of you understand the goal of the conversation while respecting each other’s boundaries.
Some ground rules may include, listening to the other person's thoughts completely before responding, maintaining a presence in the conversation (no distractions), and allowing breaks from the conversation if needed. It may be helpful to come up with a specific word that will signal to your parent or child that you need a break from the conversation to process what you are hearing. When a person uses the word, the other acknowledges and accepts that they may be feeling overwhelmed and the conversation is put on hold until the time is right to begin again.
During the conversation, make sure to explain the situation and your feelings calmly and clearly. Practicing what you are going to say before the discussion can help relieve some of the anxiety and ensure you can collect your thoughts. I personally like to journal or type in my Notes app before important conversations. This allows me to get all of my emotions and key points on paper. It also helps make sure that I go into the conversation with the right mindset and don’t say things I will regret later.
Obviously, we hope that the conversation goes well and both parent and teen leave with a sense of reassurance and newfound understanding for one another. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. If the conversation goes poorly, make sure to recharge and reflect on what happened. This could be going on a walk, drawing, baking, or any other form of activity that is healthy and allows you to decompress.
After taking some time to cool off, you can now focus on why the conversation didn’t go as planned and come up with possible solutions. Talking with an unrelated third party, such as a trusted friend or therapist, can help as they will be able to offer more objective advice on the matter. When you're ready, reach out to the other party and try again. The important thing to remember is to keep trying. This will show the other person that you aren’t abandoning or giving up on them and will help your relationship in the long run.
Things to Remember as a Teen
I understand that talking with your parents can be a daunting concept. Being a teenager myself, I have faced many times when I was too scared to discuss an issue with my parents, so I bottled it up instead. This only hurt me in the long run. Maintaining communication with your parent or guardian is an important step in developing your relationship and mending any previously broken bonds. Connecting with your parents can improve your overall well-being and guide your life.
Nevertheless, I am not naïve enough to think that everyone has the luxury of a healthy parent-child relationship. Ultimately, if it reaches a point in the relationship when you have tried communication with them and it has repeatedly backfired or your mental health is suffering from it, it is okay to distance yourself and create those boundaries. Finally, your self-worth is not dependent on your parent’s opinions of you.
Things to Remember as a Parent
Being a parent is a draining and hard task, and with everything else going on in life it can be difficult to make time for some things. However, having a meaningful conversation with your child should not be something you put off. Maintaining an open line of communication can not only improve your relationship but ultimately ensure they are staying safe. Many relationships your child has in their lifetime will be a direct implication of the relationship you built with them. By modeling healthy communication, you will be helping them to create better relationships with other people as well.
Again, the important thing to remember is to reach out and let them know that you are available to talk without the threat of judgment. If they choose not to take you up on your offer, remember that you can’t force the conversation. You are doing all you can and eventually, they will understand that.