The research is focused on the importance of communication in a family when dealing with teenagers. Due to the fact that teenagers experience a number of changes at this particular period of their life, it is hard for parents to keep up with them. A variety of conflicts may arise due to changes in ideologies or values, and it may occur that established expectations become unrealistic, due to social pressures put both on parents and their children, or as a result of existing biases. The paper offers methods for dealing with conflicts between teenagers and their parents as well as providing advice on further actions of forgiveness and establishment of trust.
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Communication in a family is a process of sharing a range of thoughts or emotions between its members. However, communication does not always imply speaking, since even silence can convey emotions or ideas. Without communication, family members will not be able to express respect to each other or share their feelings; thus, the relationships between parents and their children will be much more complicated than they already are (Family Times, n.d., p. 1).
Important issues for teenagers relate to parents being honest with them, being able to listen without judging and condemning the opinions of their children, as well as being able to provide emotional companionship, comfort, and attention. Communication between parents and their children, especially teenagers, is an ongoing process that can be developed and modified in order to create a sense of openness and support that will become a basis for the pattern of their relationships in their future life.
However, communicating with teenagers is often complicated due to the fact that they start dealing with much more serious relationships with their peers, the biology of their bodies changes, they start developing individual systems of morals and values that can differ from those of their parents, and they learn new skills. Thus, it is important to remember that the relationships that parents establish with their children should account for the changes that occur in the teenage years, so that the process of communication is not surrounded by conflicts that are very complicated to then resolve.
Communication as a Key to Successful Family Relationships
As already mentioned, communication within a family exceeds the limits of exchange of thoughts among the members of the family. Information is exchanged, not only through what people say, but how and why they say it, as well as what they prefer not to say. Communication can be both nonverbal and verbal. While verbal communication is linked to words, nonverbal communication involves the tone of a person’s voice, posture, gestures, as well as other actions.
Listening can be considered one of the most important aspects of successful communication within a family since it is crucial for understanding and being understood by other members of a family. In the process of active listening, there is no place for judgment because one member of a family emphatically tries to understand what the other person is feeling and thinking. Key principles of successful active listening include encouragement, clarification, restatement, reflection, summarization, and validation. These principles all relate to asking questions about the other person’s feelings, reiterating the most important information, as well as showing appreciation for an individual who tried to share his or her feelings with a family member (Clemson Extension, 1998, p. 1).
Positive Parenting Strategies for Communication with Teenagers
Parents often fear to confront their children on various issues, especially when it comes to dealing with teenagers. The fear of improper communication with teenagers is directly connected to the fact that children become significantly involved in the outside community and become much more independent of their families. Thus, at this stage of the teenager’s life, it is important for parents to understand that teenagers do not pull away from the family because there is necessarily something wrong. It is a normal phase of teenage development to start asserting personal identity.
However, if a teenager prefers not to talk with his or her parents at all, there are some positive parenting strategies that can aid the situation. First, it is important to come to terms with the assumption that communication with a teenager will rarely be easy. However, instead of leaving teenagers to themselves, a parent should show their love and care, offering to talk about any issue that may concern the teenager.
As a positive parenting strategy, parents should try spending some time with a teenager when there is a possibility of participating in joint activity, such as listening to music, watching a movie or a TV series, and discussing it later. It is important for parents just to be around when a teenager feels the need for discussion. In addition, teenagers are very responsive to humor, so it is always a good idea to incorporate it, whenever possible, into communication (Family Support Agency, 2009, p. 14).
Thus, the ability to adapt to a teenager’s needs and feelings can be helpful for parents to be successful in their parenting. There are a number of tips that will improve the relationships within a family and ensure successful communication:
- Appearing interested and supportive will ease the pressure a teenager may have when starting a conversation with his or her parents.
- Listening to each other, hearing, and being sensitive to what another person is feeling and saying.
- Trying to imagine yourself in the position of another person may make it easier to avoid jumping to premature conclusions or being critical (Clemson Extension, 1998, p. 1).
Nonverbal Communication Issues
Two main issues that relate to nonverbal communication between parents and teenagers relate to avoidance and approach. The issue of approach is connected to the problems of closeness, acceptance, or interest, as well as other behaviors that can be transferred in a nonverbal manner. Approach predominantly transfers through smiling, or sitting in an open position, or standing closer to another person. Avoidance, on the other hand, relates to the issues of distance, separation, or conflict. It is conveyed through posture, body movements, and facial expressions, like, for example, crossing arms or frowning.
The latter issue of avoidance is closely connected to a teenager’s exhibition of various defense mechanisms. For example, the concept of “reversal of affect” mentioned by Kahlbaugh and Haviland in the article “Nonverbal Communication between Parents and Adolescents” is a defense mechanism that occurs when a teenager who was closely attached to the family distances himself or herself from the family. The process of distancing from the family is accompanied by an increase in behavior that is hostile, or secretive in connection with certain aspects of one’s life. Put plainly: hiding something from parents. However, instead of reacting with understanding or support, parents also tend to exhibit hostile behavior toward the teenager. Such hostile behavior is explained by either the unsatisfactory behavior of their children or the feelings that the parents are unable to raise a child properly (Kahlbaugh & Haviland, 1994, p. 92).
Dealing with Family Conflicts
There is no family life without a conflict. However, being fearful of them will not help resolve, or at least mitigate, the issue in the relationship between teenager and family. Despite the fact that many parents think that a happy and healthy family is one that is free of conflict, it is far from being true. The absence of conflicts in a family indicates that frustration, sadness, anger, and other emotions are being suppressed. On the other hand, some parents create such an atmosphere of fear in the household that the slightest prerequisites of a conflict are instantly eliminated.
It might be surprising to find out that the majority of conflicts between teenagers and their parents cannot be fully resolved because they are usually connected with mundane events like room tidiness or homework. Thus, the same conflict may appear a number of times.
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Differentiation of Family Conflicts
Reasons for why conflicts occur in a relationship between a teenager and his or her parents can be multi-dimensional. Conflicts may occur for a number of various reasons:
Contrast in Values or Beliefs
It is common for a teenager to adopt a new set of beliefs or values that his or her parents do not approve of. For example, a deeply religious family may not approve of the fact that the teenager has a tendency to dismiss the religious values of the family and explore scientific theories of human origins. Another example is that teenagers see value in sarcasm or dark humor while their parents see it as disrespectful behavior. Thus, teenagers may view their parents as being too strict or too traditional.
Parents often see their children as messy, disorganized, and uncontrollable while teenagers view their parents as too critical and controlling. The habit of the teenager not to tidy a bedroom, or staying up late at night to play video games, may cause conflicts in the family. Such conflicts are better mitigated through setting loose rules that will be accepted by both sides. For instance, if a teenager stays up late to play video games, he or she must wash the dishes after dinner. Such a solution will benefit the teenager, who will be able to play video games by ‘paying’ for the privilege with the help of a useful deed (Ng, n.d., p. 6).
The mismatch in the expectations of teenagers and their parents may often cause conflicts. It happens because parents may set expectations that are too unrealistic for their children to attain; the behaviour of such children may never be good enough for their parents – either the grades are too low, or the room is not tidy enough. In addition, the expectations parents may set for their children may be hidden, meaning that they are not communicated. It also happens vice versa, for example, a daughter may want her mother to spend more time with her but never express those feelings. Thus, the mother never knows that her daughter needs more attention. Because of the lack of communication, conflicts in a family may reach very high levels.
Because every person has biases, it is important to be aware of them. For example, if a father is asked about one characteristic of his son, he may respond with, “He is always on his phone, never pays attention to what I am saying”. Such response can be considered biased because the father may not take into account that his son is, for example, doing work on his phone by responding to emails. On the contrary, the son may say that his father is always asking for attention and demanding to be heard, without taking into account that his father is interested in his life and wishes him all the best.
Living Under Pressure
There is a significant pressure for every individual to succeed in life. For example, parents feel pressured to work harder to pay for their children’s education, while children feel pressured to reach their parents’ expectations. However, apart from being pressured by parents, teenagers are greatly influenced by their friends and classmates. What classmates may pressure a teenager into doing may not always be approved by parents, thus a conflict may arise. With pressures seemingly coming from every aspect of human life, it is no surprise that both teenagers and their parents may overreact and cause a fight in the family (Ng, n.d., p. 10).
Negotiations and Conflict Mitigation
It is not unusual for both parties of the conflict to become overwhelmed, without knowing how to resolve the issue. There are numerous strategies that can help the family to overcome the conflict and restore positive relationships. Firstly, it is always important to keep one’s cool since it is very easy to overreact and make mistakes that are subsequently difficult to fix. Secondly, it is crucial to identify the problem itself without being distracted by less important issues. For example, when parents and a teenager argue about a particular item of clothing, it is important to identify whether the issue actually concerns what other people may think about how the teenager is dressed, or if the underlying issue is more to do with what people may think about the parenting.
If a conflict cannot be resolved by either party of a conflict, it may be a good idea to involve another party in the role of a mediator. A mediator, for example, a family friend or a relative, can maintain the negotiations within safe boundaries during the conflict.
Regardless of what consequences the conflict has brought, parents and teenagers should recognize the importance of forgiving and thanking each other. Forgiveness brings a conflict closure. It means that both parties of a conflict are free again to act normally around each other and begin appreciating each other’s company. By teaching to thank, forgive, and ask for forgiveness, parents can reinforce a positive parenting strategy that teenagers can use in their future lives (Drew, 2002, para. 18).
Any type of communication is key to successful relationships within a family, especially when it comes to relationships between parents and their teenage children. Because teenagers undergo a number of emotional, social, and biological changes at this particular period of their life, it is hard for parents to know how to handle them. A variety of conflicts may arise due to changes in ideologies or values, in the established expectations that are unrealistic, in the social pressure put both on parents and their children, in biases, or in the habits a family member may develop.
To resolve a conflict, it is important to make sure that the real issue is identified and that the conflict resolution occurs within safely established limits. When a conflict is resolved, parents should teach their teenage children to forgive and ask for forgiveness; a positive feature for any individual to employ throughout life.
Clemson Extension. (1998). Family Relationships: Building Family Strengths.
Drew, N. (2002). Six Steps for Resolving Conflicts.
Family Support Agency. (2009). Parenting Positively: Teenage Well-Being. For Parents and Teenagers.
Family Times. (n.d.). Communication is the Key to Healthy Family Relationships.
Kahlbaugh, P., & Haviland, J. (1994). Nonverbal Communication Between Parents and Adolescents: a Study of Approach and Avoidance Behaviors.
Ng, J. (n.d.). Why Can’t We Get Along?