Parents should aim to communicate with their kids often and openly without pushing them away. And the most important thing a parent can do is listen, according to Scott Haltzman, MD, clinical assistant professor at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior.
"When your children open up to you, it's not so you can tell them the right thing to do," he explains. "They're sharing with you so that you can understand them better." They also are probably seeking validation and support.
In fact, communicating with teens is really more about listening rather than speaking. Dr. Susan S. Bartell, a nationally recognized psychologist and author specializing in teens, says, "In fact, the more you offer advice, the more likely your teen is to shut down and stop listening. "
Scott Greenberg, a motivational speaker and author for youth and teens, suggests setting yourself up as an ally to your teen by being open to what he's discussing with you.
"If you treat certain topics, like dating, as a misbehavior and express excess concern, your teen may feel compelled to keep secrets and withhold information. The goal is to establish trust and open communication. Be happy for him and offer yourself as a resource," he says.
Bartell also says parents need to resist urges to give advice or trivialize their teen's feelings. "Even though you've been through it yourself, resist giving advice. Instead, listen a lot and be empathetic," she says.
Instead of advising, feel free to share your own stories to help build rapport with your teens. This increases your credibility, according to Greenberg. These same tactics can help you build relationships with your teen's friends and love interests so that you know the people with whom your child is spending time.
Mary Jo Rapini, LPC, says volunteering to drive a carpool is a good way to listen to your teen talking with his peers and may help you understand what stresses him out. Bartell agrees and says that talking in the car eliminates eye contact and seems to help in communicating.
Haltzman adds, "Getting a boy to engage in conversation often requires physical activity, such as going for a walk or a drive. Reducing the amount of eye contact can actually improve his comfort level. "
Consulting with other parents who have either already gone through the teenage years with their kids or are currently experiencing them is another way to get ideas and share solutions and frustrations.
Do your homework as parent and read books and articles. Visit websites such as Healthy Teen Network, where you'll find studies, research, articles and interviews on topics related to the teenage years. And remember: You can always connect with other parents and share advice on our parenting message boards and Real Moms Guide
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