Having hard conversations with your teenagers by Dave Hughes

With the recent school violence in Parkland, Florida, we’re faced with yet another reminder that today’s youth struggle with very difficult social realities. It can be hard to even talk about such awful events. So, how can parents go about having these important conversations with their teens?

Create a healthy environment for communication:

Your own self-care

            It is really valuable for you to model how to take care of yourself when an upsetting event occurs. When we acknowledge that the toll of being exposed to such horrific acts of violence affects us as well, it can open the door for deeper, more authentic conversations with our teens. Going for walks, spending time in nature, and engaging in prayer or meditation are just some examples of self-care.

Don’t assume silence = everything is ok

One mistake that a lot of us make is thinking a lack of communication is equal to a lack of need for communication. It’s easy to fall into the old ‘no news is good news’ trap, as we ignore opportunities to have important conversations. Just because your teen isn’t talking about it with you does not mean that they are not thinking about it.

Get out of the echo chamber

We live in an era of 24-hour news coverage. The problem with this is how much of our thought life and emotional life these events begin to consume.  It’s as though it’s happening all over every day. Setting some boundaries with your screen time can help.  Whether it’s putting your phone away after a certain hour or during dinner, healthy boundaries with the information coming at you will help you regulate your emotional space better. You can model this for teenagers and help them understand that it is healthy to take a break from screens.

Routine and self-care rituals

Research has shown that after a traumatic event, especially for youth, re-entering the safety and predictability of routine can help speed the recovery process along.  For people of all ages, orienting ourselves to our social world through routine and self-care activities creates resilience and helps us recover faster. Participating in activities with our community and healing with them is very important after exposure to a trauma.

You don’t have to be perfect

You don’t have to know the right things to say. Sometimes, just listening to how your teen feels is the best thing that you can do.

Here are some tips for good listening:

  • Empathy: When we strive to see things from someone else’s perspective and stay present with them, we communicate something far more impactful than if we simply try to ‘fix the problem’.
  • Timing: Know your family’s rhythms. Do serious conversations happen best over the dinner table, around bedtime, or in the morning before school?Knowing when’s a good time to talk goes long way. Also, it’s okay if your teen is not ready to talk when you ask them about how they feel. Your question lets them know that you’re interested.  They may come to you later that evening or the next day when they feel ready to talk.
  • Authenticity: By owning the fact that we don’t have all the answers, we create space for others to be OK with not having them either.
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