I am willing to bet that you have spoken these words at some point to your parents, “You don’t understand”. I know this to be the case because I used to be a teenager and I said this statement more than once. Often times when working with families to resolve disagreements I’ve found that the parents really do understand the teen however the communication between the two parties has made any type of understanding or resolution impossible. This article is meant for teenagers and young adults who find communicating with their parents to be overwhelming, circular, and pointless. I offer several different strategies that will make expressing your feelings more achievable.
First is working to develop empathy for your parents. Empathy is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. At one point your parents were your age and they may understand more than you give them credit for. You don’t have to be a parent to have empathy for them. You do however need to listen to what your parents are saying and actively reflect that you hear them. Even if you do not agree with what is being said, by showing your parents that you hear them they will then be more likely to listen to how you feel. This is where most disagreements between teenagers and parents go south. You as a teenager do not feel heard so when your parents “lecture you” you tend to look away , shake your head, and act uninterested. Active listening is making eye contact, noting your head, and having welcoming body language. If your parents think that you are not listening they will draw an imaginary line in the sand and most likely not take the time to “hear you out”. Sometimes you as the teenager will need to be the first to listen if you expect your parents to listen to you.
Second, after you have listened to your parents and expressed empathy the next step to effective communication is to use, “I statements”. An “I statement” is an effective way to display your feelings and it often triggers and empathetic response from your parents. For example let’s say that your parents tell you that on the weekends you are expected to only engage in family activities. This will most likely be frustrating because you want to hang out with friends. You could tell your parents, ” You don’t understand what it’s like to feel locked in the house with your family, we already spend enough time together”. In contrast an effective “I statement” in this scenario could be, “I understand that you would like me to spend more time with you and my siblings, I am willing to engage more in family activities, however it is very important to me that I be able to maintain my friendships over the weekend too”.
Third, I advise the teenagers I work with to practice effective communication with their parents at different times, not just when you want to get your point across. Teenagers who can foster good communication regularly have a better chance at being heard by their parents when something difficult comes up. Some good times to communicate with your parents are at the dinner table, before you go to bed, or after you get home from school.
In summary often times circular arguments and disagreements with your parents are caused by ineffective communication. You as a teenager can begin the process of fostering effective communication. Some ways to do this are by developing empathy for your parents, engaging in active listening, implementing “I statements”, and practicing effective communication when there is not a disagreement.