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Nine ways to keep parent-child communication functioning
For many a frustrated parent, trying to talk with a teenage son or daughter is like talking to a wall -- except that the wall has more to say about how its day was, or how it's doing in school.
Getting the silent and/or sullen treatment from your teenage child doesn't mean that anything is wrong (though it can). And it isn't necessarily something that every parent will eventually have to put up with.
The Daily Herald talked to marriage and family therapist Tony Mosier to find out what parents can or should do if it seems like the lines of communication are down. Mosier is program director at Telos, a residential treatment center for struggling boys in Orem, but he doesn't just work on the front lines. He's also a married father of five children, ages 1, 3, 6, 9 and 11.
1 Teens talk less -- They just do, Mosier said. As your child starts junior high school, and especially as he or she moves into high school, it's entirely natural for a certain guardedness, an emotional remoteness, to set in. By and large, Mosier said, most kids experience a degree of "loving detachment." In most cases, he said, "they're making a healthy transition into being less emotionally dependent on their parents. They're developing independence, and that's what we want."
2 It doesn't happen all at once -- If your son or daughter stops talking to you "literally overnight," Mosier said, "then it's something a parent should be aware of." An abrupt break-off of communication, he said, can be a sign of depression, substance abuse or some kind of physical trauma.
3 Fools rush in -- Some parents have a tendency to respond to a shift in communication, whether abrupt or gradual, by making demands of their child, insisting on immediate answers, or threatening an unresponsive child with punishment. Instead of telling your son or daughter, "We're going to talk this out right now," Mosier said, parents should let children know that they are available and interested. But don't force the issue.
4 Handle with care -- If you're concerned about your teen, Mosier said, you can most effectively figure out what's going on with them by being a "humble detective." "You're a curious observer of your child's problems, you don't have an agenda," he said. "When your kid says, 'I just feel like going and getting high,' don't crack down on that. Ask them, 'What do you think that would do for you?' " If you help your child talk things through, Mosier said, he can often figure out a solution to problems on his own.
5 It's about time -- The stronger the relationship that your child has with you, the less likely she is to ever freeze you out entirely, even in teenagerhood. The most important thing that you can do to build that relationship, Mosier said, is make time for your child, and lots of it. In this case, he said, quantity is just as important as quality.
Make time with your children a scheduling priority. For example, Mosier said, once a month "I'll just pick five nights and go out with each of my kids. My wife will do it the next month. Every other month, I have one-on-one time with each child."
6 No more Mr. Fix-it -- Teens don't necessarily want their parents to solve all of their problems, Mosier said. Consult with your son or daughter about problems at school, or on the job, or whatever. But don't insist on stepping in to fix the problem if your child wants to try to handle it on his own.
7 Provide validation -- "You never get too old to long for your parents' approval," Mosier said. "You could be 45 years old and opening a new business, or whatever, and you're going to wish your dad would stop by and say, 'Good job, son. I'm proud of you.' " You can have a big impact on your child -- even if he or she doesn't let on about it -- by offering specific praise. "Those little comments about specific actions are priceless," Mosier said.
8 I love you -- Expressions of love, he said, are also important. "Bring flowers to your daughter," he said. "She's going to roll her eyes and be a sullen, angry teenager, but she'll go up to her bedroom and treasure that. So often we think, 'Well, my kids know I love them.' Be sure that they know it."
9 These are the rules -- Your teenage kids do want boundaries, Mosier said, even if they don't always respond well to them. Parenting advice, Mosier said -- including from himself -- can "give the impression that parents should just hug their kids and sing 'Kumbayah.' " Be clear and be firm about what your home's rules are. "Kids feel safe," he said, "when they have strong parents who are united."