Typically, teens don’t let their parents in on what’s going on for them. It’s partly wired into the experience of adolescence. Teens are pulling away from their parents and family as means to discover themselves. However, teens are also facing issues that require maturity, self-confidence, and smarts. They may be experiencing peer pressure, bullying, a new job, or questions about how sexual they should be with their girlfriend or boyfriend. Adolescents face major questions during this time of life, and they need the support of the adults in their lives. This is why it’s important for parents to help their teen communicate with them.
Tips to Help Your Teen Communicate
Yet, how do you support a teen if they’re not saying much to you? Here are a few tips on how to help a teen communicate:
1. Let your teen know you’re there for them. This is a simple step but if parents don’t do this then teens will more likely keep to themselves. It’s important to clearly communicate that you’re there for your teen and if there are any difficult issues that you can work through them together.
2. Create an environment of emotional safety. If you’re frequently teasing your teen for how they feel or live in an environment where feelings aren’t easily shared, then it’s going to be hard for your teen to talk to you. You can begin to create an environment of emotional safety by respecting your teen’s feelings, showing interest in what your teen shares, and being open about your own feelings in a calm and mature way.
3. Listen: If your teen does communicate even the slightest bit of information, listen closely. When you listen, use all of your senses, including your intuition. Watch your child’s body language. Listen for what they are communicating underneath the words. Then, when you respond, repeat back to your child what you heard in your own words. You might also let your teen know that you understand how they might feel by saying, “Gosh that sounds hard,” or “Are you feeling frustrated by that? If you succeed in listening to and understanding your teen, your adolescent will be more willing to discuss in more what he or she is experiencing. And, more importantly, he or she will also be more open to what you have to say.
4. Respect your teen’s decision. If your teen is facing an issue, avoid expressing your authority. Unless it is an issue in which your teen might be harmed, then let your teen make up their own mind. Let them decide what they might do. Instead of giving advice, you might say, “So, how do you think you’re going to handle that?” This can support your teen’s problem solving skills, maturity, and self-confidence – which is precisely what they will need in adulthood. You might also follow-up with your teen in a few days about whether their problem got solved.
5. Talk while driving. Some teens have a hard time with direct eye contact or the subtle nuances that take place during an uncomfortable conversation. You might not feel uncomfortable, but if your teen is then it might be best to talk while in the car or while walking side by side to avoid the eye contact.
6. Stay calm. There’s a good chance that at some point, your teen might trigger an emotion in you. Whether it’s their decision to not go to college right away or their dating choices, teens can make their parents upset from time to time. If this happens in a conversation with your teen, it’s important to stay cool. You can always talk through your feelings with your spouse later or even talk to your teen about how you feel in another conversation (not in the heat of the moment when triggered).
If you are wanting to help your teen communicate their thoughts and feelings to you, try the suggestions listed above.
When You Suspect Mental Illness
In some cases, you might recognize that your teen is feeling depressed, anxious, or even suicidal. If your teen remains quiet, isolated, withdrawn, and unresponsive to your attempts to communicate, you might wonder if your teen is experiencing depression. Or for other teens, perhaps they are sharing their lives with you, including the fact that they are experiencing anxiety and even panic attacks. In these situations, there may be a few additional steps to ensure your teen’s emotional and psychological safety and wellbeing. For instance:
1. Find a therapist that specializes in adolescence. A therapist who specializes in adolescence will know how to create a positive and emotionally safe relationship with your teen. This will not only create the foundation for supporting your teen through any symptoms of mental illness they may be experiencing but will also facilitate developing a long-term plan for overcoming any mental illness.
2. Become an active participant. Let your teen know that you will be actively involved. This can ease the feeling of your teen having to go through this alone. For instance, the thought of therapy itself might provoke anxiety for some teens. Communicate that you will accompany your teen each step of the way.
3. Look for local and online resources. If your teen is having a hard time talking about depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, know that there are many websites online where teens talk about their mental illness. This might support your teen in feeling like they are not alone. In addition to websites, your teen might be open to participating in a support group where teens with the same issue are talking about how to manage and overcome what they’re going through.
4. Let your teen know you love them. One of the challenges with mental illness, especially during adolescence, is that teens might begin to feel like an outsider. They might feel stigmatized, or worse, be teased by others. To help your teen’s emotional wellbeing, continue to communicate your love and acceptance for your teen.
These are suggestions for helping your teen communicate with you so that they open up about their thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, communication becomes more important when your teen is facing mental illness. The above suggestions can help parents with supporting their teen through the challenges of depression, anxiety, or another type of mental illness.