February 2019 Blog Post 4
How many times have you asked a teen how their day was and they give you a one-word response? “Fine” is something I hear often as a youth advocate. The frustrating thing is that “fine” is not at all helpful. It lacks any information and halts conversation dead in its tracks; a tactic teens know all too well. Many times parents express frustration that their teen doesn’t tell them anything and they don’t know what is going on in their life.
The issue often is not that the teen does not want to share about their day, but they are not approached in a way that allows them to feel safe and comfortable to do this. Most importantly, asking open-ended questions allows conversation to flow more smoothly. “Tell me about your day.” or “What was the highlight and low point of your day?” can solicit more clear feedback. When asking about their feelings, it is important to allow time for teens to think and process what you are asking before expecting an answer. Sometimes youth don’t have words to communicate their emotions because, let’s be honest, emotions are complicated.
Ensuring that we remain open and non-judgmental is vital to healthy communication with our teens. If they sense that we don’t want to hear what they are telling us or will think differently about them, they will be less likely to reach out to us in the future. Most often, teens need validation or reassurance that what they are feeling is normal and completely natural. “It sounds like this is really tough for you.” can serve as a great way to show you are listening and care. It is when we as adults jump into problem-solving mode that we are met with roadblocks. Only after someone feels heard and understood can addressing issues occur. When teens feel that someone ‘gets’ them, we are reinforcing that they matter and deserve to be listened to.
Most importantly, we have to check in with ourselves before engaging in conversation with youth because feelings are contagious. If you or your teen is overwhelmed, stressed, uncomfortable, or distracted, everyone will feel dysregulated. It is impossible for us to listen with our full heart if we are dysregulated or emotionally unsettled. Try modeling coping skills and identifying your emotions in everyday life. It can be as simple as saying “Wow, I am feeling overwhelmed right now. I am going to take a walk.” In this example we are showing that it is important to identify how we are feeling and then do something about it.
Teens who can recognize, communicate, and manage emotions are teens who can reflect on interactions they have with others and determine if it is healthy or unsafe. Parents who are present as open and welcoming connections can serve as supports when teens need guidance or help. With this, teens are better able to navigate interactions with others and discontinue relationships that are unhealthy or do not meet their needs.
Thank you for joining Prevail in recognition of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). Our Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month toolkit will remain available on Prevail’s website at https://prevailinc.com/index.php/prevail-special-events/awareness-month-activities/teen-dating-violence-awareness-month. Each day, we have the opportunity to encourage and empower teens to create healthy connections with others. Please consider how you can support Prevail’s mission of eliminating violence from our community by promoting healthy relationships.