Image 117788627, mother and teenage daughter chatting, 123RF stock image.
COMMUNICATION AND POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Famed educator and psychologist of the 1950s, Haim Ginott,
developed ideas on the importance of communication and positive relationships with teenagers. Joseph Sacks clarified some of Ginott’s work with his own ideas based on clinical and classroom
Please bear in mind that the following represents a parenting ideal that may be very difficult to achieve. Have patience with yourself and try to implement the following ideas little by little.
1. Teenagers Crave Self-Determination
teen needs to feel independent. Although limits need to be set, you need to give him or her as much autonomy as possible, within reason. Too much freedom can be dangerous, but too little can be equally harmful as your teen will feel restricted,
resentful, and maybe rebel. Each teenager is unique, and where one child might thrive under your supervision, another may need more independence.
must be wise and work out what is just the right amount of freedom your teen needs as he or she ages.
2. Use “Golden Phrases”
Golden phrases empower your teen
and encourage him or her to take responsibility. By saying things like, “You decide”, “Whatever you choose is fine with me”, and “I have confidence in your ability to make the right decision”, you communicate that you trust your teen.
The truth is that we need to let teenagers make their own mistakes.
It is more important that your teen makes a self-determined choice than one determined by you as the parent. Your child’s sense of self is at stake, and that may mean
you have to let him or her choose, even if you would have chosen differently.
3. Don’t remind Teens of their Younger Years
You may think about the times when your teen was growing up every day, but he or she would rather not. Teens are trying to put distance between themselves and their childhood. Statements like,
“Remember when you were …” or “You were so cute when …” make your teen feel like a child at a time when he wants to be treated like an adult.
4. A Teenager is an
Your child is growing up, but he or she isn’t done yet. He or she has not developed and refined
character traits yet, and many important experiences still lie ahead of him or her.
a result, your teen is bound to make poor choices and mistakes. It is your duty as a parent not to point them out!
Your teen may believe you see flaws and shortcomings rather than his or her efforts to learn and grow. This can be very threatening to your teen’s sense of self.
Not to mention, she or he is probably painfully aware of her or his mistakes anyway and doesn’t need help remembering. [The human brain doesn’t mature until around 25-30 years. ICOB.]
Don’t Try to Prove You’re Right
You may know that you are right in a
disagreement with your teen but resist the temptation to prove it. When you engage in a battle of wills with your teen, it becomes about more than the issue you were debating. Your teen’s very
sense of self is involved and he or she has too much at stake to give in. Trying to prove your point only creates resistance. Instead, be patient and remember that sometimes
you must let your teen learn from time and personal experience.
6. Be Nice!
Many parents who are in a conflict relationship with their teen throw their hands in the air and exclaim, “Of course it’s that way, he’s a teenager!”
The truth, however, is that your relationship with your teen does not need to be this way. There are parents who have warm, respectful, and relatively conflict-free relationships with their teens.
You can aim to achieve this by following the golden rule.
While it may sound
simple, parents often overlook how important it is to BE NICE! Be nice to your teenager. Be kind, gentle, forgiving and flexible. As much as possible, be a
source of pleasure to your teen, not stress. She / he should think, “Mum always makes me feel good”. Yes, limits need to be set, but you will be surprised how setting expectations in a nice, thoughtful, way can work wonders for your
relationship with your teen. [Often, in family life, people can get into a habit of speaking rudely or in an offhand way to each other. Everyone should try to speak to others as they would like to be spoken to themselves.
If the discourse starts from a low, possibly coarse level, downwards is going to be pretty unpleasant. ICOB.]
7. Don’t Be Bossy
Teenagers hate being bossed.
The truth is that no one likes it. But there are times when you have to tell your teen what to do, whether or not you think he or she will want to listen. So, the answer is to keep your instructions to an absolute minimum. There’s
only a certain amount of instructions a teen can handle per day and still feel independent. Let’s say, just as an example, that your teen can handle five commands per day without feeling bossed around. You don’t want to waste those.
You want to spend them wisely on important items. Try to resist the urge to tell him or her what to do on minor matters and save your precious few commands for more important items. [It is always better to ask
a teenager to help with folding laundry or preparing vegetables rather than giving an instruction. Sitting together, preparing food for a meal, is a relaxed situation which often ends up involving chats on
diverse matters, big or small. This helps having conversations easier in general. ICOB.]
Ironically, the fewer instructions your teen hears, the more likely he or she is to comply with the remaining few commands you do issue. Try spending an afternoon without telling her or him what to do
– not even once. Then, at the end of the day, ask him or her nicely to complete one important task and you will be surprised to see him or her comply. That is because the relief he or she felt at not being bossed all afternoon gave him or
her a sense of self- determination and, therefore, the strength to comply.
8. Ask Nicely!
When you do want or need to ask your teen to do something, remember to ask nicely. It’s amazing how many parents bark orders at their teenagers
instead of speaking to them politely.
How do you feel when your boss gives you a blunt order? Teens appreciate
being asked nicely just as well as adults do.
Try asking in
and easy-going voice, “Would you please wash your hands before we eat?”.
9. Never Criticise Negatively
Never use negative criticism with your teenager. Even with the best intentions, criticism is poison to a teen. It’s
supposed to benefit him or her by correcting some sort of fault or mistake, but the damage done to his or her self-esteem far outweighs the benefit. Additionally, your teen may come to resent you for your criticism, limiting
your relationship and how effectively you can reach him.
10. Praising your Teen
can feel like your efforts to compliment your teen aren’t registering, or that they are doing more harm than good. So, how do you praise a teenager? The key is to avoid praise that is an evaluation, or where
your teen may believe his or her value is based on performance. Statements like, “You’re such a great footballer,” mean well, but they have several drawbacks. [Praising
someone for the sake of it is always patently insincere and of little value to the recipient. That kind of praise is usually despised and does not reflect well on the one who
Often, such empty praise may be seen as a form of pressure to work harder on the matter praised and can be viewed as a back-handed compliment.
First, these sorts of evaluative statements put pressure on your teen to
always live up to an unrealistically high standard, to always be as good or better from now on. He or she knows he / she can’t meet these expectations and feels bad or like he / she has
failed. Furthermore, this type of praise often feels untrue and insincere. He or she knows he’s probably not truly a great at sports as he or she makes mistakes often. Rather than helping
him or her focus on his / her successes, excessive praise reminds him or her of mistakes.
Second, disproportionate or over-zealous praise can tempt your teen to accept an over-inflated sense of self which can easily be shot down by a few setbacks.
Instead of praise, try to use the golden tool of describing what you see your teen accomplish. [For example, you might say, “Gosh, you made the catch,” or “I see you practised hard for an hour,” or “You finished all your homework early”. This frees your teen to make his or her own judgments about him / herself.
ICOB.] This creates true self-esteem, whereas evaluative praise, by contrast, creates a fragile sense of value based on others.
If your teen helps you around the house, instead of saying, “You’re great!”
describe what he / she did: “You set the table, that was helpful, thanks”. The point is to give a realistic picture of the accomplishment, not to glorify your teen. Too much praise can make a person feel arrogant and uncomfortable. Describing, on the other hand, leads to a realistic self-image and allows your teen to conclude about her / himself, “I am liked, I am appreciated, I am respected, I am capable”. This ability to find self-value is true self-esteem.
11. Give your Teen Privacy
Teenagers need privacy. You may worry about your teen and want to know what
is going on but avoid the temptation to pry too much into their lives. Giving him / her some space and distance is a mark of respect, and you may even find your teen is more willing
to open up.
12. Don’t Lecture
Teenagers, like everyone else, hate sermons, lectures, and speeches. Stick to short sentences only. Instead of trying to explain to your teen why he never does his homework, just say, “Bobby, homework, please”.
13. Don't Fututise
Futurising is when you tell your teen how his or her behavior now will affect the future.
“If you ever want to get a job, you are going to have to learn to be more responsible”, for example. Or, “What are they going to think of you in college with those table manners?”.
These types of statements are just negative criticism and insults,
which is exactly how your teen will perceive them.
Futurising should be avoided like the plague.
14. Discuss, Don’t Critique
If your teen has an interest you dislike – or can’t stand – try to express your own tastes
rather than offering criticism. [The next time your teen turns on his or her music, for example, avoid groaning or saying, “Turn down that rubbish”. Instead, acknowledge their selection –
“I see you like rap” – and describe what you feel, “I still love Bowie”. ICOB,] Your teen will appreciate that you had a conversation
instead of critiquing or dismissing his / her interests.
15. Reflect, Don't Argue
If your teenager complains about
your food, try not to argue. Just reflect his or her complaint back, “Was the soup is too cold for you? I was rushed today”. This validates your teen’s experience and enables him or her
to deal with it. By accepting her / his feelings you make it easier to express her or his appreciation for your good cooking. [I think it's reasonable to ask all children and young people to help with preparing a meal.
It's a chance to learn a lifelong skill and a good way to hear everyone's news of the day. ICOB.]
16. Respect your Teen’s Opinions
When your teenager expresses his or her opinion, you need to respect and validate it. For example, “It
sounds like you think the Manchester United aren’t going to make it into the top four this season”. A young person’s opinions are like a small fire that needs to be carefully nurtured and kept aflame until it can develop into
an adult belief system.
You need to show your teenager that it’s okay
to disagree with you. Try to see things from his or her viewpoint. Never, ever ridicule or put down your teenager’s opinions.
Be very sparing even when you disagree with your teen. If he
or she expresses an idea you disagree with say, “I’d like to know how you came to that view. Can you tell me more about it?” Reflect what your teen said and only then say how
you see things differently.
[Similarly, if your teenager expresses
a vague idea and he / she is not completely sure how to get across, help him or her to express ideas more clearly by restating back what you understand was meant by what he or she said. It could turn out you’ve completely misunderstood. Being listened to and respected by one’s parents develops self-confidence and self-respect. It helps a teenager turn into a successful adult, and your teenager
will appreciate you for this. ICOB]
17. Reflect your Teen’s Experience
If your teen has trouble getting out of bed in the morning, reflect to her or him that you understand. For example, “I know it’s tough getting out of bed on a
cold morning. It would really feel great if we could stay there longer”. This validates your teen’s experience, and the pleasure and understanding she or he gets may give her / him the strength to get up.
Always take your Teen’s Side
When a teenager comes home reporting
a conflict with someone outside the house, don’t take the side of the other person. Always support your teen, even if you suspect he or she was wrong.
By taking your teen’s side, he or she will feel more secure and, therefore, more likely to admit mistakes he or she has made. When
he / she comes home bruised from conflict, help and support are what are needed, not criticism or condemnation. You need to be your teen’s defense team, always on his / her side. Many
parents think their children need them to be tough so they can learn to deal with adversity. The opposite is true, however, and being warm and supportive
is what will give your teen the strength to deal with challenges and uncertainty.
19. Reflect your Teen’s Feelings
Reflective listening can serve as emotional first aid, helping your teen heal from emotional wounds. You should
always deal with your teen’s emotions before you start giving advice. When your teen comes home complaining that someone has wronged him or her, use responses that reflect the feelings they are sharing. For
example, “Oh, that must have been embarrassing”, “Did that made you angry?”, and “You must have resented him for that”.
When your teen sees that you understand how he or she is feeling, it helps diminish some of his or her strong emotional responses.
20. Never Argue with your Teen’s Feelings
Accept your teenager’s feelings.
Reflect on what they’re experiencing and acknowledge their perceptions. Never deny your teen’s feelings or experience.
21. Accept that Schoolwork is a Burden
If your teenager complains about his / her schoolwork burden, don’t dismiss the concerns or say,
“That’s life”. Instead, reflect the difficulty back, “I can see you have a lot of work. That volume of homework can be almost overwhelming when you must get it
all done in one day. Is there anything I can do to help?”.
The pleasure of this type of validation gives your teen the strength to persevere without minimising his / her experience.
22. Acknowledge your Teen’s Worries
If your teen is worried about a big game or performance, acknowledge his or her concerns. You might say, “I know it’s scary
to go out there and perform in front of all those people. You may feel like they’re judging you. Of course you feel nervous, it’s natural”. This shows you understand how your teen feels and how she or he diffuses
anxiety. [The Bel Canto singer, Tony Bennett, tells a story of being in the wings before a performance and turning to see Frank Sinatra beside him. He admired Sinatra greatly and told him he always
gets very nervous before a performance. Sinatra nodded and said, the day you’re not nervous is the day you give up performing. ICOB.]
23. Never Forbid
At times, parents may set limits on certain behaviours. But we should never place limits on how teenagers are allowed to feel. If your teen is angry, allow him or her
to experience his or her feelings.
Never forbid, deny or repress
an expression of anger. If your teen does become angry, never make fun of or belittle your teen for his or her response. Anger does not go away when you forbid it; it just festers and gets worse.
Tell your teen, “I see you are feeling really angry”, encourage him or her to talk about how he or she is feeling and take time to listen well.
Express Anger without Insult
By the same token as the previous suggestion, when you become
angry as a parent you should also express your feelings. But, the rule is “anger without insult” – you should never attack your teen’s personality. Express how you feel, “I’m furious, I’m boiling, I’m livid, I can’t believe what happened”; but don’t blame, attack, or criticise.
Your teen needs to learn that you are a person who has strong feelings, too.
25. Reflect, Don't Argue
When your teen does something wrong, don’t attack, criticise, put down, moralise, lecture or give orders or commands. All these things will put
your teen on the defensive and make him or her feel bossed. Instead, describe what you see, what you feel and what needs to be done.
Say, “There’s a huge mess in the living room after you and your friends. It makes me annoyed to see things all over the floor; everything belongs back on the shelves”.
By describing the situation, your feelings and your expectations, you are giving your teen information in a respectful way, letting him or her know you have faith in him or her to behave appropriately. This type of
thoughtful, respectful, communication promotes healing and growth in your relationship with your child, increasing trust. Remember, anger without insult.
26. Tell your Teen when you
Don't like His / Her Tone
When you don’t like the way your teen is talking, it is okay to tell him or
her. State clearly and directly – without criticising or placing blame – “It makes me uncomfortable when you talk that way”.
27. Respond to Inappropriate Behaviour with Expectations
When your teen behaves inappropriately, instead of criticising,
ordering, or insulting him or her, state your values and expectations clearly and concisely. “In our house, we don’t call each other names”, for example. Or, “In our house, we speak respectfully to one another”. Haim Ginott developed the effective idea to write notes or emails to teens to address problems. Notes are extremely
well received: the very fact that you went out of your way to write a note shows tremendous respect for the reader.
of just blowing off steam and talking off the top of your head, writing a note allows you to plan and prepare what you have to say, making it much easier to control your passion and be constructive in your words. The written
word also lends tremendous importance to what you have to say and it will be taken very seriously.
28. Hurl Values, Not Insults
Offer feelings, not criticism. Use “I,” not “you”. Statements like, “What is the matter with you”, or,
“Look what you’ve done”, place judgment and blame. Instead, describe your own values and experience: “I’m sorry this has happened”, or, “It’s a pity things worked out that
way”. You are making the same point, but you are doing so in a more positive and effective way.
You Can Build a
Healthy Relationship with Your Teen
Teenagers show respect for their parents when parents
show respect for them! Respect means that we should see the positive in our teens and appreciate their good qualities. We should treat them with kindness and consideration, recognising and reflecting their
[Many of us have been told “You must respect
me, I’m your father”. We may have been taught ‘to honour thy father and mother’, but no-one will truly respect another who doesn’t deserve it as shown by their behaviour and treatment of others,
no matter who he or she may be.
All humans are due respect, but people in authority
are on a sticky wicket if they think claiming respect will make it so. ICOB.]
[I added headlines, colours, emphasis and additions to the text of the above article, ICOB.]