Teenagers: 3 Ways to Help Kids Improve Communication Skills


Teenagers—How does a mother explain how her tween daughter remembers every detail of an episode of iCarly, but can’t for the life of her recall where the hamper is? What’s really going on with an adolescent who quotes verbatim the whispered conversations of faraway classmates, but insists that she did not hear her teacher assign any homework?

Passive aggressive behavior is a deliberate and masked way of expressing feelings of anger. This behavior thrives in the pre-teen and adolescent years when teens learn that compliant defiance can be more satisfying—and less likely to result in punishment—than fighting, yelling, and other disruptive ways of expressing emotion. Passive aggression explains why adolescents experience extreme forgetfulness at chore time and temporary deafness when homework is assigned. Although passive aggression is a common feature of adolescent development, there are distinct ways parents can cope with this behavior and help their kids develop skills for more assertive, relationship-enhancing communication.

3 Ways to Enhance the Communication With Your Teen

Recognize the Signs

Though people with passive aggressive behavior try hard to mask their angry feelings, evidence of it can be found, if parents know what to look for. Early detection prevents problem escalation. Watch out for red flags such as:

  • Shutting down conversations ("Fine" and "Whatever")
  • Denying feelings of anger (“I’m fine.  Whatever!”)
  • Verbally complying but behaviorally delaying (“I’ll clean my room after swimming.”)
  • Intentional inefficiency (“I did put away the dishes.  I didn’t know where those bowls went, so I just stacked them on the counter!”)
  • Avoiding responsibility for tasks (“I didn’t know you wanted me to do it.  Putting away the laundry is his chore!”)

Make Friends with Anger

Anger is a basic, spontaneous, normal part of the human condition.   Too often, kids are held to an unrealistic social standard about what it takes to be “good” and learn to perceive anger as a sign of being “bad.”  Passive aggressive behavior is commonly the result of kids believing that they have to suppress angry feelings in order to avoid feelings of guilt or the experience of confrontation.

Parents can teach kids to own, accept, and “make friends” with their anger. By teaching kids how to disagree without arguing, say “no” without feelings guilty, and stand up for themselves when they are being mistreated or bullied, they build a foundation for lifelong emotional intelligence and strong relationships.

Be Graceful on the Receiving End

A parent’s willingness to receive a child’s verbalized anger is a third essential element of helping him develop skills for assertive anger expression. Though none of us enjoy being on the receiving end of anger—and no one deserves to be a victim of verbal abuse—when our kids test out new skills of assertively voicing their angry feelings, parents must be willing to accept this open and direct form of communication. For many, this is truly difficult. But for lasting change to take hold, kids must know that the assertive expression of their anger will be tolerated, respected, and even honored!

How do you effectively communicate with your teen? What steps do you take to enhance the communication?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker, a writer and a mom with over ten year of experience working with children and parents.  Signe also has training workshops for professionals and parents across the US.  During her spare time Signe enjoys writing for My Baby Clothes dot com.  You can find great baby clothes and beautiful tutus with matching baby headbands for all of your little ones needs and special occasions.

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