Washington Family Magazine : June 2016
Why Won't My Teenager Listen to Me? TEXT LESLIE SHORE When my two brothers and I were in elementary school, our family always ate weekday dinners together. Everyone in the family had a chance to talk about problems, successes and minutia of the day. My parents insisted that if we wanted to be listened to, we had to listen to everyone else, including them. My parents created an environment conducive to sincere communication. They knew that if they wanted their children to listen to them, they needed to listen to us. By the age of six, your child is already copying how you communicate. If you communicate with others respectfully, and listen for understanding and not to advise or prescribe, then your child will copy that behavior. Imagine your child coming home from daycare excited to tell you what they did that day. You, busy sorting mail, prepping supper, texting or talking on the phone, ask them to wait until you are finished without telling them how long that might be. All they see from their perspective is everything you are doing is more important than listening to them. Their self-esteem takes a hit. If this pattern continues, it becomes the communication norm for that child. Here’s the great news. You CAN change the communication norm in your family. It will take time and practice, but it is 34 June 2016 washingtonFAMILY.com possible, and the results become apparent in short order. No matter what type of family system, the norm can shift and a new norm can be created. Understanding What Is Happening The first step parents can take to improve family communication is to rigorously look at their current communication behaviors. 1. Observe your communication behavior around your significant other, your parents and siblings, and your friends. Whether the communication is in person or on the phone, what are you modeling for your children? You may want to enlist a ‘communication helper’ from outside your immediate family and let them know what you are working on. Their observations might bring to light some behaviors you wouldn’t otherwise notice. 2. Observe your behavior when you communicate with your kids. Don’t let your emotions about what you are discovering get in the way; you are fact finding so you know what to work on.