What Did You Say?Talking with ParentsWhen you're a tween or teen, it can be hard to have honest, calm parent communication. Here's how to have it more often.By Nancy Gruver and Sarah Weiss
Do you ever feel like your parents aren’t really listening to you; aren’t seeing things from your perspective? Do you ever feel like it’s a struggle to open up to your parents about something big? We hear this from our members. Sarah’s been there as a girl and Nancy’s been there as both a girl and a mom. This article shares some ways you can make communication with your parents more satisfying. Sarah says:
For people we’ve known (and who’ve known us) for most or all of our lives, it’s amazing how hard it can be to communicate with our parents (or whatever adults fi ll that role for you). Sometimes it feels like we’re speaking a completely different language from the people who are raising us. Other times, it feels like we’re being pressured to talk when or about things we don’t want to—or like we aren’t getting the opportunity to talk when or about things we do want to. It’s frustrating. Lack of communication can go hand in hand with a lack of understanding. And of course, lack of understanding can lead to all kinds of mistakes, hurt feelings, and—guess what?—miscommunications. It’s quite the cycle.
The good news: With a little mutual effort and consideration, it’s very possible to build a strong, working, and communicative relationship with your parents and with others. So here are a few tips and things to consider to help you do just that.
You aren’t alone in this! Especially when issues arise, chances are your parents want to communicate with you just as much as you want to communicate with them. Sometimes it’s hard to fi nd the right ﬂ ow, to match up your “languages.” You might wish they were better at communication . . . but they probably feel exactly the same way!
A little empathy goes a long way. It’s easy to see from our own perspective, of course. But it can be much harder to look at things from another point of view. This is something every one of us can work on. And better yet, we can work on it with each other. Remember: You’re in this together.
When and Where to Talk Finding time for “just talking” can be hard to fi nd. But don’t wait until something huge happens. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just make talking a habit. Even if you don’t want to talk about, “How was your day?” don’t grunt and head to your room. Try giving a real answer and tell them about recess or your big homework assignment. Maybe try asking them, “How was your day?” and then listen to what they share.
Something that really works for me is combining talking with doing. Talk while going for a walk, or driving somewhere. Talk while cooking together or playing a board game. It helps lessen my uncomfortable feelings when opening up feels awkward to me. Nancy says:
When my daughters were 16, Nia was struggling to make a big decision. She was talking to me about it and I was quietly listening. I noted to myself that I was being a good mom by not interrupting her. It’s always hard for me to not give people advice when they seem to have a problem. Problem-solving is one of my superpowers and I like to help! But a lot of times people actually don’t want me to solve their problem. They want me to listen while they talk about it. I have to remind myself of this.
All of a sudden Nia stopped talking and looked at me. It was my turn to talk. But I had no idea what to say. While she was talking, my mind had gone off on other thoughts and I didn’t hear most of what she said.
I tried to make the best of it by saying, “Honey, I know you’ll make the right decision. You’re really good at figuring things out.”
She looked frustrated and said, “Mom, I want your advice! That’s why I’m asking. You actually give pretty good advice most of the time.”
I knew I’d blown it in that conversation. I told her my thoughts had wandered and asked her to tell me again so I could really pay attention.
I still have to remind myself to really pay attention whenever I’m listening to someone else. My mind wanders a lot, thinking of all kinds of stuff besides what the person I’m listening to is saying. I actually have to practice doing this. When I notice that my mind is wandering or coming up with solutions, I focus on my breath for three breaths. Then I go back to paying attention to the person I’m listening to. As I learned to do this, I’ve gotten a lot better at really listening. And I still have to keep practicing it because brains naturally wander a lot.
Tips for You and Your Parents
By working with and listening to lots of girls, I’ve found a few tips that help both girls and parents improve our communication.
G is for Get to Know Them. Spend time with them doing things that either one of you enjoy. Listen to their opinions, especially when you have a different opinion. Accept them for who they are and don’t try to get them to be different. I is for Improvise and Ignore Stereotypes. There’s no “one right way” to communicate. Try different ways and see what works for you. Each of us is our own person and doesn’t want to be stereotyped. That’s totally awesome and lets us share ourselves with each other. R is for Remember Who They Are. Sometimes people seem to be very different from who they used to be. All of us have a self inside who is our truest self. When we don’t feel safe showing our truest self, we might act very different. But the true self is inside and when we show people that we accept their true self, they will feel safer acting and talking as their true self.
L is for Listen. Keeping our attention on another person and listening to them is quite difficult for our brains to do. To have strong communication, the other person needs to feel that we have heard what they said. After someone has told you something, it’s very helpful to do a short repeat to them of what you heard. Then ask them if they feel you understood them. If they don’t feel you understood, ask them to tell you again.
S is for Share Ourselves and Our Experience. We want to feel that we truly know all the facets of the important people in our lives. We’re curious about them and their life. This includes things they’re very proud of, mistakes they make, and problems they face. We’re all human beings, which means we’re not perfect. That’s a good thing and makes us more interesting. Perfection is boring.
Sarah is an 18-year-old Jewish musician, bookworm, college student, lifelong learner, NMG online community manager/Sister to Sister mentor, and the list goes on. I love to write all sorts of things, from essays to fiction to poetry.
Nancy is also a bookworm, the cofounder of NMG, inventor of crazy ideas, maker of mistakes, mom to Mavis and Nia, Nonna to Lucy, Greta, Sam, and Quentin, and always fascinated by the interesting things girls do, say, write, think, and change.