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Psychologist discusses way to improve communication between parents and children

Updated 2:03 pm, Thursday, May 19, 2011
  • Silver Hill Hospital has started a community program to help parents and teenagers develop healthier relationships through improved communication. Photo: Ben Holbrook / Darien News
    Silver Hill Hospital has started a community program to help parents and teenagers develop healthier relationships through improved communication. Photo: Ben Holbrook

 

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Improving the lines of communication between teenagers and parents can be a daunting task but with the right approach it is far from impossible.

As part of a community service initiative Silver Hill Hospital has brought in Clinical Psychologist Barbara Greenberg to work with parents and teenagers to improve their relationships. Greenberg said research has shown teens who engage in positive dialogue with their parents are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be happy, successful adults.

Greenberg, who has given a number of lectures throughout the state on parent and teen relationships, said one of the most popular topics parents want to discuss is ways to get their children to talk to them.

"It seems counter-intuitive to teach ways to get kids to talk but there are a few tips parents can follow," Greenberg said.

The first tip parents should consider when trying to get their kids to talk to them is to ask indirect questions instead of direct questions.

"Teens hate it when parents ask them direct questions," Greenberg said. "If you can go in a side door it will lead to the child being in control of the information."

As an example of what would be an indirect question Greenberg said a parent could ask their teen how the drive to a party went instead of asking what they thought of the party.

The second tip is to make sure parents listen to what their children are telling them, Greenberg said.

"You need to listen, listen and listen without interrupting," she said. "Teens want you to absorb what they're saying, so you need to resist the urge to intervene and tell the child what to do."

As important as listening is the ability to stay calm when your child tells you information that may elicit an emotional reaction.

"If you start getting emotional it will give the message you can't handle the information. At the same time you don't want to under react either," Greenberg said.

Making decisions while in an emotional state is not the best route to take because many people tend to overreact when they aren't thinking logically, Greenberg said. Parents should remain calm even if they aren't feeling calm and wait to cool off before deciding on any consequences; however, Greenberg said parents shouldn't avoid setting consequences.

"I always say you should strike while the iron is cold, not while it's hot," Greenberg said.

Another tip Greenberg had for parents was to not pass judgement. When parents judge their children's friends they are in essence judging their own child as well, Greenberg said. One of the trickiest areas to navigate with teens is the topic of their friends.

"You need to tread lightly whenever you talk about friends," Greenberg said.

The last tip for improving communication was providing opportunities for your child to talk to you, Greenberg said.

"You need to create moments where it's just you and your child. They need opportunities to talk to you because you can't just ask them to spill everything to you," she said.

When it comes to the lives of teenagers, Greenberg said there are a few well kept secrets that parents should know.

Although it may not always seem like it, Greenberg said teenagers do want to talk to their parents. However, they want to talk when the moment and context is right for them, she said.

If your child's lies are a source of constant aggravation then it may help to know why kids lie.

"Kids do care what their parents think of them and it's why they lie," Greenberg said. "They don't want to disappoint their parents."

The final thing parents should know about their teens is the fact teens do want their parents around.

"They do want you around but they don't want you following them up to their room or looking over their shoulder. They want you be there physically and emotionally," Greenberg said.

Getting your kids to talk to you is not always easy and those issues can be further exacerbated by technology. For those parents who have kids who are on their computers constantly checking Facebook or on their phones texting friends, Greenberg said it's not a bad idea to set parameters with their kids about how much they can use technology.

"A lot of parents don't know that they can and should be monitoring their kids' use of technology. You should also know what you are giving them and set parameters like how many hours they can use the computer and when they have to turn it off," Greenberg said. Telling your kids ahead of time you'll be monitoring their online activities can help alleviate any accusations of invading their privacy. However, Greenberg said parents should be prepared their children will still be angry with them when it comes to checking what they do on their computer or with a phone.

With greater access to technology has come an increase in the popularity of social media. Greenberg said when it comes to social media parents should be aware of what their kids are doing.

"With social media the day never really ends. They can be involved in conversations all night," Greenberg said.

If you are concerned about your child spending the night texting or chatting online, Greenberg suggested parents take phones out of their kids bedrooms and establish consequences if their child doesn't turn their computer off by a certain time.

"It's not easy to limit access because social media is addicting. If you never so no you are raising a child who only hears yes and will believe the key to a happy relationship is to say yes to everything," Greenberg said.

For more information on establishing a healthy relationship between parents and teenagers go to www.talkingteenage.org or check out "Teenage as a Second Language."