Technology has drastically changed how we communicate with one another. We send short messages via text, share our emotions via emojis, and negotiate through email. While these things are all forms of communication, we seem to be losing the most important means of communicating through human interaction.
Those subtle cues of voice intonation, facial expressions, and body language are slowly disappearing. Interpreting another person’s intended meaning or true feelings is becoming more difficult as we try to understand what the winking emoji, smiley face, or thumbs up mean.
Teenagers have become so accustomed to shooting off a quick text message that they do not see how messages can be misinterpreted or communication can be more than a digital interaction.
Is the lack of direct communication hindering our teens from genuinely expressing their thoughts and emotions? Is it prohibiting them from sharing their feelings and understanding how they fit into the big picture of society? As amazing as technological advancements are and how far they have come, we also need to consider the effects on our children and their emotional and mental well-being.
Even without the distractions and limitations of technology, communication with a teenager can be difficult. When pressed we can compare the teenage years to the terrible twos: outbursts, pushing boundaries and testing the limits, asserting their independence, inability to express their emotions, and don’t forget about talking back. For any parent of a teenager, these are indeed trying times.
It may seem that they are an open book as they chat away with their friends on Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, but then they clam uptight when it comes to having a real conversation with mom or dad. Consider this: are they having a real conversation with their “friends” on social media, or is it merely idle chatter about non-sensical topics? Are they really sharing and discussing issues that matter? Are they learning to communicate in a way that helps them understand the world and share their thoughts?
The answer is probably a big ole NO! Teens are, of course learning critical skills, but they may not be learning how to communicate in a way that will help them later in life in their careers, in relationships, and someday with their children. As difficult as it may be, parents must work on building a healthy relationship with their teens to teach them how to communicate in person, without the distraction of a device or screen.
This is not to say that it will be easy. Remind yourself of the early days when you had to give yourself a time out that your child was in one. Remember when you had to manage your own emotions and think about the best way of communicating with your child so that they would understand and learn. The teenage years are no different for most teens. Let’s look at several tips to help you to communicate with your teen effectively.
Tips for communicating with teens
- Listen. While this seems logical, it can be difficult to truly listen with all of the distractions around us. Teens may more often than not give you a wealth of information with the offhand comments rather than through direct questioning.
- Trust. Teens are stuck somewhere between being a child and an adult. They want to be trusted with responsibility and taken seriously. Show that you believe them by extending opportunities for them to be trusted.
- Validate feelings. Teens do not always want you to solve their problems for them. They want to know that you understand and empathize with them.
- Control your own emotions. Two wrongs do not make a right. If your teen lashes out or displays anger, it does not do any good to respond the same way. Anger on your end serves to raise barriers in communication between the two of you and does not teach effective communication skills.
- Praise. While teens may outwardly display that they don’t care what their parents think, they do want the appreciation and support of their parents. They thrive on your approval and positive reinforcement.
- Be observant. As teens experience the challenges of adolescence and manage the flood of hormones raging through their bodies, they will undoubtedly go through a variety of changes. Although they may be difficult to spot under “normal” circumstances, drastic changes in a teen’s mood, behavior, energy level or appetite may be signs that something more sinister is at work than growth and maturity.
Communication is key to understanding your teen and what is considered “normal” behavior. If you suspect that your teen is experiencing a mental health issue, you must reach out to their pediatrician for an evaluation. They may then refer your child to the trained professionals at Beachside Treatment Center for support and guidance.
Even with your best efforts at communicating with your teen, mental health issues may make communication difficult. They may not have the capacity or skills to effectively communicate about their daily life, their thoughts, and feelings, or the impact it may have on their lives.
For teens who facing mental health issues, the lack of direct contact with peers in the digital age and a lack of communication skills may push them further into their disorder, isolating them from the reassurance and support that they truly need from you and others.
No matter the disorder or issue that a teen faces, treatment, and support are available. Medical health professionals like those at Beachside can provide your teen with the tools to manage and overcome their disorder and the tools and resources to better communicate their feelings, emotions, and wishes.
Psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as talk therapy, is used to guide teens to openly share their feelings, thoughts, and emotions either in a group or individual setting. They learn how to process their behaviors and to communicate with friends and family effectively. Many of the techniques learned through therapy for mental health issues are transferable to real-life situations and will assist teens throughout their lives, even when finishing treatment.
- Listening: One of the most essential skills in any kind of communication is listening. We have already discussed the role of a parent listening to a teen, but how important is it for a teen to learn this skill as well? If teens do not know how to listen, they will not learn to express other important skills such as empathy and compassion. Group therapy in which teens with similar diagnoses are asked to speak prompts a teen to learn and utilize this critical skill of listening. They will learn that they are not alone and may gain an understanding from someone else how they have been able to manage symptoms and feelings.
- Body language. Unlike the communication that occurs from behind a screen, in-person communication requires delivering and reading body language. Interaction with others teaches young people the value of what is not said. Eye contact, hand gestures, body position, and movement all play a role in revealing a person’s tone, intention, and mood and help to direct a teen as to appropriate behavior and response.
- Overcoming challenges: Little do teens know that when we speak out loud, thoughts can become clearer and more logical and organized. For many teens with mental health issues, their thoughts prevent them from thinking clearly and focusing on the matter at hand. They get so caught up in the fog that clouds their mind that they cannot see clearly to a resolution. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps teens to give voice to their thoughts, to overcome trauma, and to progress toward their goals.
- Remaining calm: As their emotions run wild, a teen with mental illness may not have the tools necessary to channel their emotions to the right outlet causing them to have tantrums and outbursts. Through therapy, they can learn to identify their feelings and to put them into words to diffuse a situation and to avoid further miscommunication. Rather than exploding with anger, they can effectively communicate in a way that parents, peers, and teachers can understand and best help them.
- Self-improvement: Therapy offers a teen the skills to communicate with others, but more importantly, it also provides them with the ability to communicate within themselves effectively. The negative thoughts associated with mental illness can drag a teen further into the disorder and even leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, the teen may think, “I am useless, and no one likes me.” Because he communicates this message to himself, he gives off the impression to others through his body language and tone that he is unapproachable. Thus, a vicious cycle is created. By learning to self-talk, a teen can identify those negative thought patterns and speak positive, affirming thoughts instead.
- Writing: Written communication is also a powerful method of communicating with oneself and others. In group or individual therapy sessions, teens are encouraged to journal their thoughts and record their emotions, helping them to express themselves differently. As each of our brains is wired differently, some people find it easier to express themselves in writing as a more effective means of communicating.
- Role-playing: Role-playing is often used as an effective tool to improve communication skills. By verbalizing how you see another person’s viewpoint or perspective, teens can learn to build empathy and compassion and therefore build better communication with others.
Communication is a necessary part of life. As technology threatens to take all forms of communication other than text/written away from us, we must diligently encourage teens to increase their communication skills for their own sake. For teens with mental health issues, effective communication techniques will assist a teen with their recovery journey as well as creating coping mechanisms to assist them in living the life they were meant to live.
The mental health professionals at Beachside Teen Treatment Center can guide you in the best treatment options and support of your teen if you suspect that they are experiencing a mental health crisis. Reach out today.