Every parent hopes for a great relationship and open communication with their child during the teenage years. It’s easy, however, for us parents to inadvertently discourage that by continuing to speak to them as we did when they were younger and needed more direction.
As the child moves through the teenage years, our challenge is to move away from control to coaching. If a parent defaults into a more directive, one-way conversation mode, there’s either going to be an argument or the teenager will clam up, get bitter and/or rebel.
Here’s a solution that worked wonders in our home. Give your teenager the right to ask for permission to speak freely. You’re probably familiar with that phrase in a military context. Same concept. You preserve respect for authority yet allow a person to be able to express their point of view, present new information, and even object in a constructive manner.
How It Works
- Discuss in advance. Explain to your teenager that you’re aware you need to shift gears in dealing with them yet you run the risk of falling back into being very autocratic. Let them know for both of your benefit, you are now giving them the privilege of asking for permission to speak freely.
Clarify what the permission is for. You agree to then allow them to discuss further, present their case, make an appeal, whatever. Common examples are exceptions to curfew, an event with friends, etc. There may be new information you aren’t aware of. It might be asking for reconsideration of a current boundary—for either a permanent change or an exception. It could be to appeal to a decision you’ve made for a request they’ve made that’s in new territory.
Lay the ground rules. They must agree to two things: to speak calmly and with respect. No raising their voice, throwing fits, making faces, etc. If they do, conversation over. Teach them to come prepared to make their case. It may be better for them to take some time after your initial decision. Promise to always take their respectful appeal seriously, yet you reserve the right to still make the final decision. How they respond will determine future appeals.
In doing so, you’re giving your teenager the challenge to build responsibility and trustworthiness. These are real-world skills that they’ll need the rest of their lives.
You’re also helping yourself to lengthen the leash. It’s easy to simply give the same pat answers we always have. When your teenager asks, “Permission to speak freely?”, train yourself to take a breath and prepare yourself to listen with full objectivity and not interrupt until they are finished.
You as the parent still have the right to make whatever decision you feel is best after full discussion. Just make sure you use these occasions—particularly early on—as opportunities to flex where you can, and strengthen the relationship for the future.
This is good stuff. Give it a shot to keep an open line of communication with your teenagers that allows you to have influence for a lifetime.
Question: What has been helpful in keeping open communication with your teenaged son or daughter? Share your answer in the comments below.