Speaking the Language of Adolescence

Apr 24, 2017

What language does my adolescent speak? Sound familiar?

If you've ever been in a relationship with an adolescent or even seen their text messages, you've probably asked yourself this very question! One major difference, though, between you as the parent and your son/daughter as the adolescent is the major shift in communication with the inclusion of modern technology.

Modern technology – phones, computers, tablets, social media – has evolved faster than we know what to do with it. As parents, we now have to understand this vehicle of communication so that we can give our teens the tools they need to communicate effectively. It's no surprise that teens today use their devices as a "go to" means of communicating. You may not prefer that, but that's the reality! This shift has produced a whole new communication style that we can embrace in order to effectively communicate and maintain strong connections with our teenagers.

How often do you hear your son/daughter say they "talked to a friend for hours", when in fact it was all through text or social media? I’ve worked with many teenagers who report increased confidence and comfort in texting to initiate conversation rather than talking in person. There can be benefits to this type of communication but it's important to remember, communication is only partially complete with words alone. Upwards of 90% of communication is non-verbal – not what we say at all but how we say it – emotion is communicated through non-verbal cues including tone of voice, inflection and body language. This leaves much room for misinterpretation.

Teens are in a constant state of transition. They live between childhood and adulthood. How do we help to blend these two worlds and make this time most comfortable for everyone?

Meaningful, face to face interactions are still important and valued by teenagers. Some of the work is finding and making the most of those opportunities while embracing and learning what role technology plays for your son/daughter.

Tips to Decipher Your Teen

Consider the following suggestions that I've seen work positively with some of the families in my practice:

  • Use technology to help you communicate more with your teens – send them funny texts; let them share with you an article or video they found and liked on the internet. Watch it with them and laugh with them!

  • Adolescents are more emotionally mature and capable of more mature conversations than their younger selves. They will respond positively when treated with respect and spoken to directly. Remember you can use more "grown up" language with your teens and trust them more so you can explain why certain rules and boundaries are necessary.

  • Be available when they are ready to talk. This is a tough one. It may not always be when you're ready to talk. Let's be honest, it rarely is! A consistent complaint I hear from my teenage clients is their parent is a "nag, doesn't let it go or preaches". I often suggest to these parents that they break down difficult conversations. For instance, open up the conversation in a non-threatening manner, gauge openness to discuss and ask when would be good time to check back in with your son/daughter to talk some more. This approach provides opportunity for your teen to think about how they feel, too, before responding, remembering that teens are wired to respond more impulsively.

  • Regular family dinners are so important. Agree as a family (parents included!) to put all electronics away during that vital time to reconnect after your busy day. Regular family dinners are so important. Agree as a family (parents included!) to put all electronics away during that vital time to reconnect after your busy day. If you need help setting time limits to unplug, use a parental control solution to pause internet use, block apps and allow set times.

Most importantly, remember that your teen is always looking for mentors to admire and look up to. By embracing the new technology enriched generation, you'll provide an expressed interest and investment in their life. It is our role to meet our adolescents where they are and help them to navigate the many conflicting messages they receive, both in their internal and external worlds.