By : Gulrukh Tausif
How was your day?
Anything new in school?
While conversing with your teenager, you might wonder if there was really a time when your child used to talk nonstop. As toddlers, from the moment they opened their eyes to the minute they went to sleep, all they did was chatter and all you wanted was just five minutes of silence in the house.
Everything around a young child is a source of inspiration and a topic for endless commentary…toothbrush, teddy bear, egg and toast, butterfly, drive in the car, clouds, rain, ice cream, flowers, teachers, friends, school bag, colour pencils, lunch-box, Dora the explorer, Tom and Jerry…even an ant crawling up the wall is enough to make them talk incessantly with bright eyes and an animated expression.
Fast forward a few years and you will be justified to feel that some moody, silent stranger has replaced your exuberant, talkative child and the two of you do not even speak the same language.
Every question you ask is answered by a monosyllabic yes, no, or fine. Getting a proper answer out of them is as painful and arduous as getting a tooth pulled out and believe me when I tell you that tooth extraction is a truly painful procedure.
Have you ever wondered when it is that our children start shutting us out of their lives? When they feel they no longer need to tell us anything that is going on in school or after school or they can longer confide their worries to us. When did their problems get so big that that they started thinking that we, the parents, will be unable to help them? When it is that our approval or even permission becomes unimportant or irrelevant.
I feel a lot of this has to do with the way we communicate with our children. The words we use, how we respond to things they say and above all, our body language affects our relationship with our children. This can have a huge impact on whether they will feel comfortable talking to us about the big issues they will one day face as teenagers.
Renowned author and cultural historian Catherine M. Wallace says: “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
These are wise words indeed.
If we do not listen to our children or support their little achievements or encourage them not to be afraid of failure when they are young, our children in later lives will become moody, silent and secretive.
Teenagers love to test their boundaries, That is why in most homes there are battles about what they eat, what they wear, the amount of time they spend on gadgets or watching TV and movies, the friends they hang out with, the company they keep, when they sleep and how much of their focus is on their studies.
Frustrated by their attitude, parents sometimes say harsh things in anger or desperation. Phrases like “how can you be so stupid?”, “don’t bother me” or “you will amount to nothing in life” can really hurt your child’s self esteem. And next time they feel justified in doing things secretively or not letting you about certain things they are encountering in life.
Similarly if parents are always criticizing their children’s appearance or choices, they will hesitate to confide in you or listen to what you have to say.
Instead of lecturing or scolding, the best way to talk to a teenager is to ask his opinion. For example instead of saying, “have you seen how dirty your room is?”, ask your child “how can your room be made better?” The chances are the teenager will see his room with new eyes.
Instead of saying, “You are always wasting your time,” ask, “Are you interested in learning a new skill like swimming or tennis?” Engage them in conversation, give them options and respect their opinion too. Otherwise they may start having thoughts like; “They are always scolding me”, “They don’t understand my problems,” or “They would be so disappointed in me!”
While talking to my own teenagers, I find that instead of taking part in a yelling, glaring and shouting match, it is best to give them space and time if they are upset. Just tell them that you are here to listen to them and they can come to you anytime.
The onus is on the parents to keep communication doors open and not make the teens feel alone and alienated. Otherwise teenagers might prefer to get advice or comfort from friends or social media which is not always the best or the safest option.
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Story first published: 11th March 2017