Parents tell me their teens won’t talk to them, but teens tell me their parents don’t listen to them. There’s a desire on both sides to communicate, so where’s the breakdown? While it can be frustrating to hear “Fine,” “I dunno,” and “Whatever,” it’s not all the teenagers’ fault. Here are ten mistakes parents make when trying to hold a conversation with their kids.
- Interrupting. Cutting them off before the end of their story. Or predicting how the story will end and finishing their sentences. Even worse – interrupting an emotional story with questions about chores or homework.
- Downplaying feelings. Saying something like, “You think that’s a big deal? You should try living my life!” when middle schoolers are excited about something or really angry at someone.
- Yelling. Considered “going off” by middle schoolers, it usually causes them to just stop communicating. Note: to a middle schooler, “yelling” has less to do with volume and more to do with attitude and tone of voice at the time of delivery.
- Using “Always” and “Never.” Pointing out faults with language about how he always forgets to be responsible or how she never treats you with respect. As with most adults, the moment “always” or “never” are inserted into a discussion, the listener gets defensive and starts looking for ways to justify the behavior.
- Criticizing. Complaining frequently about such things as clothes, hair length or style, and friends. Expressing disappointment in behavior, attitude, grades, etc.
- Using half an ear. Saying “Uh-huh” and “Mm-hmm” to make it sound like they’re listening even though they’re not. Not making eye contact while the middle schooler is speaking (after all, how many adults will allow their kids to get away with that?)
- Belittling in front of others. Telling friends and family members about their children’s faults and past mistakes when they’re standing right there. Or describing a situation that really embarrasses them, and then expect them to laugh along.
- Being judgmental. Asking “What were you thinking?” or “Why are you so. . .?” or pointing out how immature they’re being. Assuming it was their middle schooler’s fault before getting all of the facts straight. Or continuing to blame the middle schooler even if it wasn’t his fault – “You must’ve done something to make him act that way toward you.”
- Solving their problems. Making them feel inferior by telling them what they should do. Interfering with the growth in self-confidence that comes with persevering through a problem on one’s own.
- Being sarcastic. Using a tone of voice that sounds serious, but using words that are confusing so that their meaning is unclear: “Sure—buy anything you want. I’ve got plenty of money.” “Really?” “No—I’m kidding.” Saying words designed to belittle a middle schooler in front of others.
If you recognized yourself in this list, don’t despair. Pick one or two and make a change. Remember that your teens want the same things you do: to be listened to, to be taken seriously, and to be understood.
Maybe they’ll even return the favor!
Sue Acuña is a middle school teacher at Concordia Christian Academy in Tacoma, Washington. Visit her classroom and you’ll find a room filled with lamps, carpets, comfortable chairs–and some pretty chill middle schoolers.