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Yesterday, a parent wrote and said her daughter didn’t listen. She complained she was losing control of her daughter’s behavior and also her daughter was becoming less talkative with her. She said she tried to get her to talk but it always ended in an argument.

With adults we are not so continuously personal and goal-oriented, but with our teens we don’t get many chances and we almost always have a point. If we get more than a sound byte moment for a complaint, we’re likely to go on to complaint #2. In the rushed schedule we all have these days, it’s easy to send the message, “And while I’m thinking about you, another thing I don’t like is …”

The hard fact is that it takes time to do more than list complaints and give instructions.

Here’s how to allow a two-way conversation. Adults are very good talkers. We have decades of practice translating thoughts, feelings, and reactions quickly into words. Children, even smart-mouth teenagers, are less practiced and, in fast conversation, they often lose out. So first of all, deliberately slow your pace so they can slow their’s. Moments of silence are not bad, and conversation doesn’t make a good competitive sport anyway.

Watch your signals: folding your arms, getting louder, and turning away all have their messages. Avoid the “Always the Critic” habit and make sure your “liking” shows through. Many parents have told me, “As far as my own parents are concerned, I always felt I was never quite good enough.” Let this not be said by your children.

Here are some cautions parents have taught me.

1. Children and teens look first for what the conversation says about them personally. We parents thought the subject was the important part. “He always takes things so personally.” is the common complaint. Keep the subject on a third person basis as much as possible as you would with an adult. Use “it” and “what” instead of “you.”

2.  Avoid the “quick fix” temptation, the real subject may not have come up yet. “Why don’t you…” “You should try…” “Don’t be so…” all have the potential of closing a conversation. They also indicate a superior position and may be offensive. If you tell me you had trouble getting to work, and I tell you to try another route and  start earlier, you think, “What nerve!” You just wanted to gripe a little and I turned it into a driving lesson! A real conversation stopper.

3. Use reflective statements occasionally. Often a teen’s first remarks are only an expression of feelings and will be short on facts. A reflective reaction is sympathetic and says you’re listening.

Teen: “What a crummy math teacher.” Mom: “Hard to get that stuff the first time.” Mom sides with her son by not falling into an argument (you shouldn’t talk about your teachers that way). She just agrees with the feeling, but says nothing new while waiting for more information.

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