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Keeping the lines of communication open with your teen is hard work. I found this article by Karen Gross on through Mark Matlock on twitter and it is really good advice for parents of teens. Good reminder for all student leaders also to be clear with what we commit to teens we we communicate with them. Check the article out…

How to Communicate with Your Teens So They Can’t Blackmail You Later

by Karen Gross on Aug 18, 2009 with 4 Comments

How often have you heard, “But you promised!” when you have no recollection of ever discussing whatever it is that you apparently promised your offspring? I have heard it plenty of times, so I decided to write an article about how to communicate with teens, and then, hopefully, I will take my own advice.

Be careful what you say “yes” to:

If you do say “yes” to whatever it is that your teen asks for, make sure you put it in writing. This is especially important for parents who, like me, suffer from short term memory loss. I have also had the peculiar experience of saying yes to something my clever offspring have asked while I was sleeping, and then having no recollection whatsoever of this alleged conversation when I wake up.

Make sure that you include any foreseeable conditions under which your “yes” could be rendered null and void. For example, if my sixteen year old wants to go to a party on Friday night, I automatically state the proviso that her chores need to be completed before she can go. She knows this, but it still has to be stated, so that she can’t get away with a technicality.

Written promises should also include any conditions over which you have no control. For example, if you said, “Yes, this weekend we will go to the beach if the weather is nice.” This condition needs to be more specific, as the term “nice weather” is much too open to opinion.

Reserve your “no” responses for requests that are worth the battle:

Once you have said “no” to a request from your teen, you need to stick to it. If there has ever been an occasion in which you said “no” first and then gave in to whining, I am very sorry to have to tell you that you have just created a monster. A very whiny monster at that. I am speaking from experience, fellow traveller.

Choose your battles wisely! Parenting guru Barbara Coloroso advises parents to save your “no’s” to requests that are illegal, immoral, or life threatening.

Beware of when you’ve said “maybe”:

Your “maybe’s” will come back to haunt you. If you say maybe to almost every request, it gives your beloved offspring legal grounds to keep asking you, trying to wear you down.

When you say maybe, you need to set out the terms under which you will give a more definitive answer. Tell them to write out at least three very good reasons for why they so desperately need whatever it is that they are bugging you about. If their list consists of: “#1. I want it. #2 I need it. And #3 all my friends have one”, then you have a parental responsibility to ask them if they would follow all of their friends off a cliff; and to remind them that you are not their friends’ parent; and especially that money doesn’t grow on trees.

Don’t say maybe just to get them to stop bugging you now (I know this is very tempting, especially if your favourite show is on TV). If you need to know more details before you can give an answer, then say so – define the details you need, and then follow up quickly (once the show is over). Don’t keep stringing them on with maybe, or else they will never leave you alone.

Don’t let them use the old “two parent spin off”:

Be aware of this tactic, and don’t let them get away with it. This means communication with your spouse or co-parent. If you co-parent with an ex, then communication is much more difficult, but at the same time much more necessary. When your teen asks for something, try to remember to ask them if they have asked the other parent first. In our house, if dad said no, and then they come to me and I say yes – then there will be consequences to follow.

I do give my kids the option of appealing to Dad. If I say no to something, sometimes I tell them that they can ask Dad to see what he thinks.

If at all possible, try to say “yes” more often:

Here I am referring to their requests for your time, not for things that they want you to buy.

Don’t tell your kids this, and please don’t tell mine! I know that you are tired and that you just want to veg out and watch some TV. But if your teen asks you to help her with her soccer moves, or for your help on her homework, or for you to go with her to the mall; I just want you to know that these requests won’t keep coming if you always say no. Teens very quickly replace their parent’s values and counsel with that of their friends. If your teen is still seeking your advice, don’t lose the opportunity. They grow up so quickly, and soon will be out of your home. Don’t waste the precious time that you have with them.

If your teens are already dissing you (did I use that verb correctly?); if they are already dressing in black with black nails, lips, and eye liner; and if they are already down to monosyllabic responses to your questions – don’t lose hope! And don’t respond to their behaviour unless it is illegal, immoral, or life threatening. (If it is, please seek out appropriate help from police, clergy, or where ever you can find it). Don’t stop loving them, and for heaven’s sake don’t let yourself be sucked into unwinnable arguments. Do the best you can, treat them with respect (even if they don’t treat you with respect – you need to be the adult!) and have patience! Once they turn 30 and realize that not too many places will hire people who dress like vampires, they will hopefully add some colour back into their lives.