“Talking to my son used to be easy, but now that he’s 16, it’s difficult for me or my husband to know what he thinks. He isolates himself in his room and barely speaks to us!”—MIRIAM, MEXICO.
“At one time, my children were eager to hear whatever I had to say. They soaked it all up! Today, as teenagers, they think that I’m out of touch with their world.”—SCOTT, AUSTRALIA.
IF YOU are raising an adolescent, you can likely identify with the parents quoted above. In the past, conversation with your child may have flowed like a two-lane highway. Now, it seems, the road is blocked. “When he was a child, my son used to bombard me with questions,” says a mother in Italy named Angela. “Now I’m the one who has to initiate conversation. If I don’t, days might pass without any meaningful discussion.”
Like Angela, you have perhaps found that your once expressive child has changed into a sullen adolescent. All efforts to have a conversation may elicit only terse replies. “How was your day?” you ask your son. “Fine,” he brusquely answers. “What happened at school today?” you ask your daughter. “Nothing,” she says with a shrug. Trying to jump-start a conversation with “why don’t you talk more?” is met with stony silence.
Of course, some adolescents have no problem speaking up. What they say, though, is not what their parents want to hear. “‘Leave me alone’ was my daughter’s frequent response when I would ask her to do something,” recalls a mother in Nigeria named Edna. Ramón, in Mexico, observes something similar with his 16-year-old son. “We argue almost every day,” he says. “Whenever I ask him to do something, he starts talking about ways to get out of it.”
Trying to communicate with an unresponsive adolescent can test a parent’s patience. The Bible acknowledges that there is “a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) “When I don’t know what my son is thinking, I get so irritated that I want to scream,” admits Anna, a single parent in Russia. Why is it that just when communication becomes so vital, young people—and their parents—seem to lose the ability to communicate?
Identifying the Roadblocks
Communication is more than just talk. Jesus said that “out of the heart’s abundance [the] mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) So through good communication, we learn from others and reveal things about ourselves. That last aspect can pose a challenge for adolescents, for upon entering puberty even the most outgoing child can suddenly turn timid. Experts say that adolescents typically feel that they are always onstage before an imaginary audience, constantly under the glare of an unforgiving spotlight. Rather than face the spotlight, self-conscious adolescents may pull the curtain down, so to speak, and retreat into a private world that parents cannot easily enter.
Another factor that can be a roadblock to communication is an adolescent’s quest for independence. There is no getting around it—your child is growing up, and part of that process involves separating from family. No, this does not mean that your adolescent is ready to leave home. In many ways he or she needs you more than ever. But the process of separation begins years before adulthood. As part of maturing, many adolescents prefer to think things out privately before revealing their thoughts to others.
Granted, adolescents may not be so private with their peers—something that a mother in Mexico named Jessica observed. “When my daughter was younger, she always came to me with her problems,” she says. “Now she goes to her friends.” If this is so with your adolescent, do not conclude that he or she has “fired” you as a parent. On the contrary, surveys indicate that even when adolescents say otherwise, they value the advice of their parents more than that of their friends. How, though, can you make sure that the door of communication remains open?
Keys to Success—Breaking Down Barriers
Imagine that you are driving on a long, straight highway. For many miles, you have had to make only minor adjustments to your steering. Then, suddenly, the road takes a sharp turn. To keep your car on the road, you have no choice but to adjust your steering. It is similar when your child becomes an adolescent. For some years, your parenting methods have perhaps needed little adjustment. Now, though, your child’s life has taken a sharp turn, and you must ‘steer into the curve’ by adjusting your techniques. Ask yourself the following questions.
‘When my son or daughter is ready to open up, am I ready to communicate?’ The Bible says: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11) As this scripture makes clear, timing is often the key. To illustrate: A farmer can neither rush nor postpone harvesttime. He simply must take advantage of the season when it arrives. Your adolescent may have a particular time during which he or she is more prone to talk. Seize that opportunity. “Many times, my daughter would come to my bedroom at night, sometimes for an hour,” says Frances, a single mother in Australia. “I’m not a night person, so it wasn’t easy, but during those late nights, we talked about everything.”
TRY THIS: If your adolescent seems reluctant to talk, do something together—take a walk, go for a drive, play a game, or perform a chore around the house. Often, such informal settings help adolescents feel more inclined to open up.
‘Do I discern the message behind the words?’ Job 12:11 says: “Does not the ear itself test out words as the palate tastes food?” Now more than ever, you need to “test out” what your son or daughter says. Adolescents often speak in absolutes. For example, your son or daughter might say, “You always treat me like a child!” or “You never listen to me!” Rather than picking on the technical inaccuracies of “always” and “never,” recognize that your child is probably not speaking in literal terms. For instance, “You always treat me like a child” could mean “I feel that you don’t trust me,” and “You never listen to me” might mean “I want to tell you how I really feel.” Try to discern the message behind the words.
TRY THIS: When your adolescent makes a strong statement, say something like this: “I can see that you’re upset, and I want to hear what you have to say. Tell me why you feel that I treat you like a child.” Then listen without interrupting.
‘Do I unwittingly hinder communication by trying to force my adolescent to talk?’ The Bible says: “The fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.” (James 3:18) By your words and demeanor, create “peaceful conditions” so that your adolescent will feel inclined to talk. Remember, you are your child’s advocate. So when discussing a matter, try not to come across as a prosecuting attorney who is out to discredit a witness in court. “A wise parent does not make such remarks as, ‘When will you grow up?’ or, ‘How many times have I told you?’” says a father in Korea named Ahn. “After making a number of mistakes in this respect, I noticed that my boys were irritated not only at the way I talked to them but also at what I said.”
TRY THIS: If your adolescent is unresponsive to questions, try a different approach. For example, instead of asking your daughter about her day, tell her how your day was and see if she responds. Or to discover your child’s opinion on a matter, ask questions that shift the focus away from your child. Ask her how a friend of hers feels about the topic. Then ask what advice she would give her friend.
Communicating with adolescents is not an impossible task. Adjust your parenting methods according to the need. Talk to other parents who have had success in this regard. (Proverbs 11:14) When communicating with your son or daughter, “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) Above all, never give up in your effort to raise your adolescents “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
What changes have I noted in my child since he or she became an adolescent?
In what ways can I improve my communication skills?