Your classmate said "yes" to a date, and tonight's
the big night. Suddenly you're feeling nervous - and could use
a word of encouragement. You got the lead in the school play and
you can't wait to tell someone how excited you are. You
didn't make the final cut for the team and need some moral
support. Who's the first person you go to at moments like this?
If you're like most guys and girls, you're more likely to
share your feelings with a friend than your parents.
When you were younger, your mom and dad were the first people
you shared your good news with - and your problems. So what
happened? Why is it that talking with your parents was so easy then
and yet it's so hard now?
Changes That Affect Communication During Adolescence
It's not just your body that develops during
. Your mind is growing too. And this emotional development affects
your relationships - all of them. Just as you've noticed how
some friendships deepen whereas others end, the longstanding
relationships you have with people like parents are going to change
too. It's all about establishing the unique identity and
interests that will turn you into an independent, self-reliant
People's minds develop in several ways during their teenage
years. Not only is this a time when you develop better
problem-solving skills and the ability to make responsible choices,
you're also examining different values and beliefs and engaging
in more self-discovery than at any other time in your life.
It's not hard to see how these changes can affect
relationships with adults: You're more confident in your
ability to decide things for yourself and resolve problems on your
own, but your parents may still see you as the little kid who
relied on them to make all the decisions. You're trying out new
approaches to life and beliefs, but these may not be the same as
those held by your parents. Although it's important for teens
to separate themselves from their parents as a way of discovering
their own identity, the separation process is a delicate balance.
And it's one of the biggest times of conflict between a parent
To achieve a sense of separation, some guys and girls may find
themselves disagreeing with, clashing with, and rebelling against
their parents for a time. Others may want to voice their opinions
but keep them suppressed because they don't want to upset a
parent or other authority figure. All of these changes can feel
confusing to someone who's used to having a close relationship
with a parent or other adult. So how can you make sure your voice
is not only heard but listened to?
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
The best tool you can use in communicating with parents - or any
adult - is to keep talking to them, no matter what. Strong
relationships depend heavily on keeping the lines of communication
open (think of your close friends and how much you talk). Try to
talk about everyday stuff with your parents as a way of building a
connection. That doesn't mean telling them everything. In fact,
turn the focus onto them for a change: Ask about their day - just
as they do with you.
David found out firsthand how a lack of communication can grow
into bigger problems. When he casually mentioned at dinner that he
was thinking of trying out for the school play, his mom kept asking
about it for weeks. To David, it seemed like she just couldn't
let up, and her endless questions added to the pressure he placed
on himself to do well. It also felt like she was getting too
involved in something he wanted to do himself. He didn't want
to share every detail with his mom like he might have when he was
young. Instead of telling his mom how he felt, David decided it
would be easier not to fill her in on anything he was doing in
future. Unfortunately, this built into a trust barrier between the
two of them.
What David didn't realize is that his mom wasn't
intending to pressure him. She was genuinely interested in his
activities and wanted to show her support - and she had no idea
that David found her questions intrusive. Because they didn't
talk about it, their misunderstanding grew. When David stopped
talking to his mom about his friends and activities, his mother
assumed he was hiding something. She began setting up curfews and
limits that David found unreasonable.
A better approach for David would have been to talk to his mom,
rationally, about the pressure he was feeling. Your parents may
have understood you really well as a little kid, but don't
assume this carries over to your life as a teenager. Tell them - as
kindly as you can - how you feel about things.
Another way to get a parent to ask fewer questions is to offer
some information on your own. This puts the communication in
hands. The more you keep adults informed about everyday things -
even seemingly routine things like who drove you to soccer practice
- the less they need to ask. Communicating everyday things has
another advantage: It can show your parents that you're mature
and responsible enough to make good decisions.
For example, Mandy knew her parents would wonder why she'd
decided to ride to practice with Jenna instead of Sam, her usual
driver. But when she told them she'd made the decision because
Sam drove too fast, her parents appreciated her good judgment.
It won't always be easy. You may get frustrated at times.
But try not to give up. It may take a bit for a parent who is used
to making all the decisions to adjust to the independent-thinking
person their child is becoming. Parents also don't want to see
their sons and daughters suffer if the choices they make on their
own aren't the "right" ones. To many parents, it
seems easier to step in and take control simply because they
believe their years of experience put them in a better position to
make decisions. If you feel that's the case with your parents,
talk to them about it.
Disagree Without Disrespect
Parents are only human, and they can feel offended when their
views are challenged. Parents can take their teen's
disagreement personally, especially if you question values that
your parents hold dear, such as political or religious beliefs. So
what can you do to get your points across in a way that doesn't
turn ugly? Remember this motto: "Disagree without
Using respectful language and behavior in your everyday
interactions is important. Resist the temptation to use sarcasm,
yell, or put down your parents and you'll have a much better
chance of getting what you want.
Nonverbal actions reinforce respectful language and show that
you mean what you say. If you're helpful and considerate toward
family members, teachers, or coaches in your everyday actions, it
demonstrates respect and helps establish a foundation for those
times when you may disagree. Plus, acting respectfully demonstrates
maturity. Parents are more likely to think of their children as
grown up - and, as a result, capable of making more important
decisions - when they see them acting maturely.
How to Disagree With Your Parents
Of course, some parents are better than others at helping you to
communicate well. Parents can help by listening to and respecting a
teen's point of view, even if it opposes their own. If your
parents just don't seem to be on the same track as you, try
these tips for disagreeing constructively:
Don't make it personal.
If you get upset, try to remember you're mad at the idea or
concept your parent or another adult is raising, not the
Avoid putting down your parents' ideas and
Instead of saying "That's a stupid idea," try
"I don't agree, and here's why."
Use "I" statements
to communicate how you feel, what you think, and what you want or
need. Using "you" statements can sound argumentative.
For example, telling your mom or dad, "You always remind me
about my chores on Wednesdays when you know I have a lot of
homework" has a very different tone from "I'm
feeling pressured because I have a lot of homework tonight. Can I
do those chores tomorrow?"
Listen to the other point of view.
Doing so makes it more likely that a parent or adult will listen
Raising Difficult Issues
Your coach hit you. Someone in your group has been arrested for
shoplifting. Your best friend tried to commit suicide: There are
times when you'll
help from your parents - if you're in trouble, want advice or
guidance, or are having trouble managing emotions or dealing with a
Raising sensitive topics can be difficult, but sometimes a
parent knows you better than you think. And teens who have already
built good communication habits with their parents will have an
easier time talking to them about the tough issues.
Here are some strategies for approaching your parents (or any
adult) with a difficult issue:
Plan what you want to say ahead of time.
Thinking the issue over beforehand or writing notes will help you
manage the conversation. Write down the three most important
things you want your parents to know (many adults use this
technique too; it's a great way to prioritize and focus the
conversation on what's important). You may also want to think
about how your parents might react and plan the most effective
Let them know directly that there's something
you'd like to discuss.
To be sure you have their full attention, be direct in your
language. Say, "There's something important I want to
talk to you about" instead of "Hey, when you have a
moment I'd like to talk." Of course, if the issue you
have is an emergency, you'll need to address your concern
quickly. Prepare them for the conversation by telling them you
need their attention on something that's urgent.
Pick a good time to talk.
Try to approach them at a time when you know they'll be less
busy and more able to focus on you. You may even want to ask if
they could set aside an hour or so to talk at a particular time
so that you know you have their undivided attention.
Write it down.
Some people find it easier to put their ideas into a letter. Let
the other person read it and then have your discussion.
Talking to Other Adults
No matter how good your relationship is with your parents, there
will be times when you'll feel more comfortable confiding in or
asking for help from other adults. If you'd rather not ask your
parents about a particular issue (like sex), if you feel you're
being abused by a parent, or if you'd just like to talk to
someone else first, there are always other resources. Most adults
will keep your conversations confidential if you ask them to,
unless they fear that your health or well-being may be in
If you're having problems with friends, schoolwork,
, or your parents, consider talking to your school guidance
counselor. These counselors are specially trained to talk privately
with you and to provide help and support in these types of
situations. A guidance counselor can also refer a teen to a
in cases where this might be beneficial.
For medical concerns and questions about sex, try talking to
your school nurse, health education teacher, family
, an adolescent doctor (a doctor who specializes in treating
adolescents and teens), or a gynecologist.
Other family members, such as an aunt, uncle, or older sibling,
can help provide wisdom or comfort when it's needed. Parents of
a close friend may also be able to help. (They may even be able to
ease your parents' fears about certain issues - like dating,
going to a co-ed party, or sleeping over at a new friend's
If you're involved in a church group or belong to a
synagogue or mosque, your spiritual or youth group leader may also
be a good source of comfort and advice. And if you're involved
in an extracurricular activity, such as sports or drama, you may
feel close enough to your coach or advisor to ask him or her about
the more personal stuff.
Even if you'd rather talk to friends about certain things,
there are times when talking to parents or other adults is a
necessity. If you think you're in danger physically or
mentally, talking to a responsible adult is important. And if
you're concerned about a friend with a serious problem,
don't worry about getting him or her in trouble. Waiting for
the "right time" could be too late for someone who is
, has an
, or is being
. An adult may have more experience, be able to contact the right
person, or find the best resources to get help.
Communicating with your parents may seem difficult right now,
but chances are it will get easier with time. When this period of
growth is over, it's likely you'll return to feeling close
to your parents and that you'll communicate with them on a new
Neil Izenberg, MD
Date reviewed: August 2006
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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