Most of us parents / guardians believe we effectively communicate with our teens, and that our teens feel they can come to us with their greatest concerns or challenges, but, is that our perception or their reality?
Here are some questions/ answers from a parent / teens Pre & Post survey we conduct at the beginning of our diversion program. Parents and teens are asked to rate their answer on a scale from 1 – 5, 1 being Strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. Here are common ratings by each.
1. I feel I am able to effectively communicate with my son / daughter. 5
2. I feel my son / daughter feels they can effectively communicate with me. 4
3. My son / daughter feel they can come to me with their greatest concerns or challenges. 5
1. I feel I can talk to my parents / guardians about my challenges. 3
2. I want to improve communication and my relationship with my parents / guardians. 4
1. I feel I can talk to my parents / guardians about my challenges. 5
2. I want to improve communication and my relationship with my parents / guardians. 5
When asked to create a diversion program for one of our local school districts it was important to focus on underlying challenges that lead to un-healthy behaviors and primary protective factors that promote healthy choices & behaviors. One significant protective factor is family attachment / communication. Having the opportunity to talk with and provide resilience tools and diversion support for hundreds of teens, the topic of teens feeling they can “effectively” communicate with their parent / guardians was at the top of their list. As interesting as it may seem, the vast majority of the teens I have encountered express a great desire to improve their relationship and ability to communicate on a deeper level with their parents / guardians. In fact, when asked about their biggest stressors and challenges that promote strong negative emotions & feelings, family attachment and communication are always a big talking point. When the “onion” is peeled back so to speak, and teens share from a place of vulnerability, it becomes quite emotional. They desire validation, deeper relationship, and to communicate their feeling without judgement, just be heard.
With so many voices influencing our teens, combined with peer pressures and a list of things they cannot control, the home is an opportune place to provide stability and predictability. We can’t control the many outside stimulants and situations our teens face, but, we can affect the culture of our homes.
With this in mind we created a diversion program that was based in promoting and opening lines of communication by first engaging the teens & parents separately, having open and honest dialog about their concerns, and helping them see the other in a different light, through empathy and understanding each other’s world. Then, bringing them together and facilitating a conversation between them. It has been a blessing to witness the tears that result from the breakthroughs, validations being met, and the hope expressed, which in turn, empowers internalizing beliefs, promoting positive mental health & producing healthy changes in their behavior.
Here are example questions from the facilitated conversations between parent & teens. Prior to the conversation we ask both to take a short validation quiz so they can share their results with each other. We us a Love Language quiz created by Gary Chapman. (I will leave a link in the bottom). Just a couple of rules that help create an atmosphere of trust for sharing:
1) Listen completely without interrupting or judging. Validate the others feeling before expressing your boundaries, concerns, etc.
2) Listen with the intent to understand, try to meet them where they are and see the world through their eyes.
3) Resist feelings of blame, judgement, guilt, etc. Whether true or imagined, you can work through them afterwards.
4) Pick a time that is not rushed and a location you can be relaxed and still intimate.
A. (Both) Share what you like about each other, appreciate, good qualities.
B. (Parents) Share some of your biggest fears or concerns you have for your son/daughter
C. (Students) Share your communication challenges with your parent / guardian.
D. (Both) Ask what you can do to improve your communication.
E. (Both) Go over your “Love Language” quiz results and share examples about how you are validated.
F. (Parents) Share what you need from your son / daughter to strengthen trust
G. (Parents) Ask what your son / daughter are passionate about and how you can support them.
Ted Huntington CEO
DR. Gary Chapman