5 Ways to Love Your Teen When Communication is Strained

Listen with heart

Photo by Len Matthews

Listening to the birds sing in the spring is one of my favorite things. Sometimes they sing so loudly that I can hear them inside the house with the windows shut. They really don’t care if I’m listening. It’s what they do. It’s what they were created for.
It’s different for people though. We are made to communicate, too, but not without regard for the ones who are listening.

Have you ever had a conversation where you feel that you’re the only one present? You can tell the other person is miles away. Maybe his eyes wander to the people walking behind you. Or maybe his response doesn’t match the conversation flow.
Have you ever had a conversation where the other person thinks she’s the only one present? She rambles on and on, not really interested in your responses or input. She just wants to be heard. Not the kind of thing where she needs to vent her thoughts, but she really just wants to hear herself talk.

I’ve been in both scenarios. I’ve talked without regard for the other person. I’ve been the distracted listener, too. The sting of sharing my heart only to realize the other person really didn’t care or at least she didn’t know how to show she cared has left me gun shy.

These things happen all the time. Shrugging it off is easy most of the time unless the conversation is with someone we deeply love, say our child.  How can we love our teens when communication is strained?
Parent as the speaker.
1. Take a beat. Breathe. It is so tempting to tell a teen something you’ve told her a million times before. That glazed look in her eye is a clue to pause and rethink your strategy. The physiology of a teen’s brain is different from any other time in life. Think back a couple of decades. Can you remember those days when you couldn’t corral your brain to cooperate with you? There’s a biological reason for that.

During those times did your parent ever say? “You’re being irresponsible or lazy.” Some of the time, it was probably true. Other times it was because your brain just wouldn’t do what you needed. This happens to our teens more often than we might think. A new approach might improve things between the two of you.
2. Make your default conclusion be one of grace instead of task oriented. The fact that her brain is going haywire doesn’t mean she can be required to help around the house or get her homework done on time. The question is how can I show her grace and get the job done?

  • Pray silently.
  • Let it go for now.
  • Take some time later in the day to consider, “How can I help her with a new strategy that takes into consideration all that’s going on in her brain?”

3. Adjust expectations. Giving another person slack to mess up and work out new plans gives her room to relax and find ways to cope with an unruly brain. Taking the pressure off frees something important up inside of us. In the mean time, your relationship might benefit too.
4. Empathize. We all want to know we’re not alone. Tell her you understand. Let her know you remember what it was like to wonder if you would ever feel sane again. Tell her it will get better. Encourage her to just hold on; lean into the changes.
5. Listen. This is more than hearing words. Listening to our teens means believing what they say. If your teen sounds like she is making excuses, maybe she is at times, but not always. Maybe she isn’t making excuses in the way we as adults think. Teens don’t understand why their brains are uncooperative. They don’t know how to stop the confusion.
How can we show our teens we understand?
• Listen to what isn’t being said. Take time to reflect on the bigger picture before responding to the surface issue at hand.
• Take responsibility for your part of the miscommunication between the two of you. Tell her you want to hear what she is really saying..
• Clarify what you think she’s saying.
• Believe her.
• Pause your inner voice tape recordings that she’s heard a thousand times.
• Ask for strategies to get the job done.
• Pray.
How do you love your teen when her brain is strained?

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