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For Employees and Families: Your EFAP

Communicating with your Teen

December 2003

For many parents, the teenage years are a time when the open, loving chats they used to share with their children are replaced with secrecy, eye-rolling and dramatic, youll never understand me sighs. Communication lines get crossed or even break, leaving parents and teens alike muttering you never listen to me. But with a few simple strategies and a little effort on your part, you can help prevent a communication breakdown with your teen or mend an existing one.

Set ground rules. Although theyll never admit to it, childrenteens includedcrave rules from their parents. Reasonable boundariescurfew, household duties, dating, etc show kids you have expectations of them and youre concerned about their well-being. Of course, most teens try to test the limits of these boundaries. When they do, its vital that the rewards and consequences of following or breaking the rules are clearly defined, fair and predictable.

Listen, really listen. Become an active listener and offer your complete attention for matters big and small. Resist the urge to lecture or belittle seemingly silly problems and try to keep an open mind. The fact that your teen is opening the door of communication is a critical first step. Dont slam it shut with an insensitive or judgmental comment. Instead, stay calm and focus in on what hes really telling youhes feeling insecure, stressed, excited, etc.and respond with empathy and understanding.

Pick your battles. Ask yourself if your childs nose ring or messy room is really as big an issue as drugs, alcohol or sex. If you overreact to smaller issues, your teen is much less likely to come to you when he confronts a real dilemma or problem. Hold firm on truly important standards (e.g., breaking curfew, drug use etc.) but be a bit more flexible with matters that, in the big scheme of things, arent life-altering.

Take time to praise. Its easy to get so caught up in what your teens not doing right, that you forget to mention the good things. Tell her when youre proud of her and remind your teen often that you love her (though she may squirm to hear it).

Host weekly family meetings. Take time out to regularly connect as a family. Family meetings are a great chance to set guidelines, discuss whats working and whats not and re-evaluate priorities. Family meetings must be democratic: make sure everyone gets equal speaking time and has a say in decisions.

Put yourself in their shoes. Times change, but many of the basic issues teens face today are not all that different from what you went through. Think back to defining moments in your teenage yearsyour first breakup, the pressure to fit in, dealing with unfair teachers, etc.and remind yourself how important those issues were at the time. Share these moments with your teen. Though she may not entirely believe it, relating stories from your own adolescence will help your teenager realize you understand what shes going through because you were a teen once too.

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