Photo by Zuzana Ruttkay on Unsplash
Photo by Zuzana Ruttkay on Unsplash

Miscommunication with Teens

Question

We have two teenage children.  While we have good relationships, we don’t communicate as well as we’d like.  In fact, much of our communication turns out to be miscommunication which leads to all kinds of other problems.  Do you have any suggestions as to how we can maximize our communication with them at this stage of their lives?

Answer

      You’re in good company, as the results of several national studies show that close to 70% of all communication involves miscommunication.  Good communication is much more difficult than most parents realize, especially between parents and teenagers.

      First of all, and this may surprise you, good communication doesn’t start with talking.  It starts with listening.  In fact most communication experts will tell you that listening is one of the most important aspects of quality communication. 

      And the Bible agrees.  Proverbs 21:11 says that “The wise man learns by listening.”  In Proverbs 18:13 we read “What a shame–yet, how stupid!–to decide before knowing the facts.” Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds us that there is a time to keep silent . . . and in James 1:19 we’re exhorted to “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

      Secondly good communication takes time.  Not necessarily a lot of time but on a regular basis you need to make time to just listen.  Most of us communicate on the run while our mind is preoccupied with all kinds of other stuff.  Quality time means that you are present and focused on listening to and understanding whatever (even if it seems massively insignificant) your child is saying.

      Wise parents know the value of scheduling focused time with each child.  Take them to Sonic for a drink or some other place they enjoy.  Turn off your cell phone since unless you are a physician there are no life-or-death calls. Remember to pray and prepare in advance for these important conversations. 

            Thirdly, good communication happens when we choose to make our initial goal seeking understanding rather than being understood.  This means that in order to listen well we have to choose to be present.  The book of Proverbs frequently exhorts us to “seek understanding.”  In fact Proverbs 18:2 tells us that “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.”  Most of us parents have a lot of opinions.

      Remember, good communication always starts with listening.  David Augsburger writes, “Love is listening.  Love is the opening of your life to another.  Through sincere interest, simple attention, sensitive listening, compassionate understanding and honest sharing . . . an open ear is the only believable sign of an open heart.  You learn to understand life–you learn to live–as you learn to listen.”

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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