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5 ways to communicate with your teen more effectively

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As parents and caretakers of teenagers, communication can often seem like an uphill battle filled with shrugged shoulders, one-word responses, poor eye contact, and little progress.

As a result, many parents and caretakers accept that talking to their teens is hard and refrain from doing so unless absolutely necessary.

On one hand, this method of limiting communication with your teenager can seem like an easy way to keep the peace in your home. However, many parents and caretakers are left with little to no tools when resolving conflict, addressing big emotions, and disciplining their teenager.

Whether your goal is to learn more about your teen’s day or to discipline them in a healthy way, effective communication is key. As a parent or caretaker, one way to improve the quantity and quality of communication with your teenager is to “THINK” before you speak. The “THINK” acronym is a means of communication that allows individuals to express themselves in a more effective and appropriate manner.

When using the “THINK” acronym to communicate with your teenager, there are 5 areas of consideration to keep in mind:

About Dr. Grishby

Dr. Kirnel Daniel Grishby is a native West Indian from the island of Dominica. As an immigrant and first-generation scholar, Dr. Grishby is a product of the urban public school system and has fostered a passion for supporting youth from marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented populations in cultivating their often un-tapped potential.

As the President and CEO of REACH A.K.G. Education Consultants LLC, Dr. Grishby is a full-time entrepreneur and small business owner with experience in both the public school system and private practice sector. She provides the necessary training, resources, and support to collectively facilitate systemic change, and to dismantle the deficit discourse within urban schools. Dr. Grishby is also a member of American SPCC’s Trusted Parenting Network

1. T – Is It TRUE?

Before you attempt to begin a casual conversation with your teenager or to build a case for why your teenager needs to be disciplined, ask yourself:

“Is what I am about to say TRUE?.”

Determining if what you say is true is critical in establishing and maintaining trust throughout the  conversation with your teenager. Failing to speak using facts not only puts your teenager on the defense, but it confuses the focus of the conversation.

Bonus Tip from Dr. G:

Modeling truthful communication for your teenager is particularly important when they are being disciplined. For example, if your teen received one failing grade on their report card, simply say that.

baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention
baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention

2. H – Is It HELPFUL?

As you begin to speak in a truthful and factual manner, your teenager will likely be willing to respond. Developing the conversation further requires consistent feedback from you that is HELPFUL.

Providing helpful feedback can include using the same words that your teenager uses when responding to their comments and refraining from interrupting them when they are speaking, even if what they say is inaccurate or untrue.

Bonus Tip from Dr. G:

Remember, the goal is to keep the conversation going, interrupting your teen will leave them feeling unheard and less motivated to share their genuine thoughts and feelings.

3. I – Is It INSPIRING?

Hearing your teenager share information that is alarming, offensive, or untrue can make you feel uncomfortable and bring up negative emotions or thoughts within you. As the facilitator of this conversation, it is important that you cultivate INSPIRING conversation, especially when the conversation becomes more intense. In these moments, think about an experience that you may have had as a teenager that relates to what your teen is sharing. Before responding, remain calm, maintain a stable and welcoming tone of voice and ask open-ended clarification questions. Doing so will encourage your teenager to challenge their thinking in a positive way.

Bonus Tip from Dr. G:

Asking “WHY?” is an easy way to make your teenager go into defense mode and shut down. If you want more understanding on what your teen shares, ask for it. Instead of asking “Why did you do this or say that?”, try saying “Help me understand how that happened.”

baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention
mother yelling at child - verbal abuse

4. N – Is It NECESSARY?

Of all the areas to consider when talking to teens, expressing NECESSARY thoughts, feelings and comments are one of the most difficult things for parents and caretakers to do. Imagine having a conversation about failing one class and your parent or caretaker starts to “accuse” you of failing on purpose, or they begin to reprimand you for not washing the dishes, completely unrelated. These types of comments interrupt the progression of the conversation by placing your teen on defense and often result in them shutting down.

Bonus Tip from Dr. G:

If the flow of the conversation will continue without you making the comment that you have in mind, it more than likely is not NECESSARY. Focus on keeping the conversation going and prioritize being present in the conversation versus being right.

5. K – Is It KIND?

As a parent and caretaker, you are responsible for teaching your teenager how to communicate. The honest truth is that many adults were not taught effective communication tools as teens and continue to struggle with expressing themselves as adults. If you are a parent or caretaker that struggles to communicate, imagine how hard it may be for your teenager. In this care, remember to be KIND to yourself and to your teen on your journey to learn. Every time that you attempt to communicate with your teen, tell yourself to be patient, to be willing and to be open.

Bonus Tip from Dr. G:

Want to ensure that your teenager will not take what you say to them the wrong way? Run the comment or conversation through in your head to determine if you are communicating in a KIND manner. Ask yourself:

“If my parent(s) or caretaker said this to me when I was my child’s age, how would that make me feel? How would my teenage self want to respond?”

baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention

Based on your response to these questions, be sure to use the “THINK” acronym to make adjustments and communicate more effectively with your teen.

Communicating effectively with your teen will bring you closer and nurture your bond as your teen continues to grow and develop as a young adult. You will both make mistakes, especially if you are starting from scratch and repairing your communication style. That is okay. The goal is progress, not perfection, so encourage each other to keep talking, to normalize using your words, and to view each other as a safe space to share.

About Dr. Grishby

Dr. Kirnel Daniel Grishby is a native West Indian from the island of Dominica. As an immigrant and first-generation scholar, Dr. Grishby is a product of the urban public school system and has fostered a passion for supporting youth from marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented populations in cultivating their often un-tapped potential.

As the President and CEO of REACH A.K.G. Education Consultants LLC, Dr. Grishby is a full-time entrepreneur and small business owner with experience in both the public school system and private practice sector. She provides the necessary training, resources, and support to collectively facilitate systemic change, and to dismantle the deficit discourse within urban schools. Dr. Grishby is also a member of American SPCC’s Trusted Parenting Network

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5 ways to communicate with your teen more effectively