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Opinion

Column: Communicating with your teen

Many teenagers have poor communication skills, particularly with their parents.

While frustrating, this roadblock is an opportunity to unearth hidden channels of communication without succumbing to unnecessary expenditures of stress or emotion.

Current state of affairs

First, take a minute to evaluate your current level of communication with your teen. Is it non-existent? Fully transparent? Or leaning to one side or the other?

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Make no mistake, teenagers will always keep their parents at arm’s length, but there are strategies to get them to bend that arm. To know where you’re heading, you must know where you are.

The 45 minute rule

If you take only one tip from this article, let it be this: when your teen gets home from school, or you from work, do not talk to them about school for 45 minutes. This will be impossible for many of you. Set a timer. And no, you may not simply ignore them; but rather,engage in topics other than school.

Why? If you don’t allow your teen the real estate to decompress after their day, they will avoid you at all costs, and your conversations will be short, contentious and irritating. Imagine if after your work day you were expected to immediately rehash it with your teen.

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“Why didn’t you meet that deadline, dad?” or “Your boss did what?” or “You need to go in and ask them if there’s anything else you can do to earn that bonus!”

You couldn’t. Neither can they.

When I return home, while I’m excited to see my family, I’m in no way ready to review or defend, or even celebrate, my day. At least not at first. I need time to find the way down to me. To settle. And so does your teen.

Crack in the armor

Everyone has a trigger; the challenge is finding it when it comes to your teen. Discovering this will largely occur through trial by fire. It may be a topic, a subject, a team, a memory, a game, a space, an activity or an event. The goal as the parent is to persevere long enough to find that connection.

For me, as a teen, it was tennis. Tennis was the safe, neutral space where my dad and I could communicate and interact regardless of the current state of our relationship. It was known (without being stated) that when we talked or played tennis, it was civil, polite, and friendly, even if we were none those things in any other context.

You are the parent; you have a premium vantage point and the proximity, and thus, are best positioned to uncover and dig for potential topics, outings, events, activities, sports, games or memories that will disarm and engage your teen. But discovery is a process.

Go slow to go fast

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Haste makes waste. It’s vital that you’re not peppering your teenager with a myriad of topics for the same reasons the 45 Minute Rule is in play. Too much, too soon, or too often will drive them away.

Make a plan; brainstorm your first approach. Pick one avenue, commit to it and see how it goes. Use that as a barometer; for example, if the attempt was talking about sports, and it flopped, opt for an experience for your second attempt. Instead of talking about sports, go watch one.

A brief warning

Establishing or reestablishing open lines of communication with teenagers takes time; it’s not easy and it’s tempting to give up. Don’t. When they were little and they threw a fit, you would let them kick and scream and cry on the kitchen floor.

In time, their fit passed. Now,they’re big kids, and instead of the kitchen floor, the fits are silent, passive aggressive, mean or hostile forms of communication. Remember, they’re still kids and patience is your best weapon.

Easy, tiger

So you did it, your teen finally opened up to you. You found a strategy that disarmed and engaged them. Perfect. Now, don’t blow it by immediately getting into the weeds and talking heavy talk. Invest in simple conversations, build equity, and cash it for the real talk in critical moments.

The objective is increased frequency of communication outside of intense or critical or important conversations. So, go you! You’re communicating; now build on that success and ride the wave of momentum to a healthier relationship with your child.

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DANIEL PATTERSON, a former Newport-Mesa Unified administrator, recently launched Patterson Perspective Inc., a consulting company.


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