Because interpersonal communication directly influences the very foundation of our existence and potential growth, it is important that our young people learn the appropriate skills to become good communicators. It is important for them to learn that people communicate both verbally and nonverbally — not only with words but also with their bodies. It is important for youth to realize that individual experiences influence our communication with others and that these experiences are unique to each individual. Young people need to learn how to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas to others in a straightforward, honest manner rather than giving double-level messages.
The apostle, Paul, spoke of this when he said, “Therefore putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). Again in Ephesians 4:29, he admonished us, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Many studies and surveys have pointed out that young people turn to substance abuse when they are in stressful situations and they don’t know how to tell others how they feel. By mastering these skills, our youth are better equipped to deal with daily life stresses without turning to drugs, alcohol or marijuana as an escape.
Communication with Adolescents
Since most of us commonly experience difficulty in communication, adults have no trouble understanding that communication with adolescents is very difficult. Break-downs in communication are both frustrating and frequent because communication is the key to all relationships and people have such a broad variety of desires, needs and expectations as they deal with one another. This is especially true of intergenerational communication. Many times we can gain more understanding from adolescents by watching and listening how they communicate.
There are several things adolescents want and need to communicate. First, they want to talk about their daily lives to someone who will listen and who is genuinely interested.
Second, they want to be able to share their feelings. Sometimes it’s hard to share on this level with an adult if the adult is prone to lecture or be over reactive to the feelings that the adolescent is sharing.
Third, adolescents want to have a safe place to ask questions. Hopefully, adults can provide this place by listening and communicating well. Adolescents need to be able to ask heart-felt questions and be supported in finding answers.
Fourth, adolescents want to talk about their fears. The critical developmental years of junior and senior high school require young people to make big adjustments. They are struggling to find their way socially, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Most of the time adolescents carry around some fear of growing up despite what they communicate to their parents.
Finally, it’s important for adolescents to be able to connect with adults who they know they can talk to if they are in trouble. This can be a parent, teacher, or a youth worker in their church. Every teen needs to know there is someone they can count on who will listen and care about them.
10 Hints for Effective Communication with Adolescents
- Remember that actions speak louder than words. Adolescents are watching how we act. Be careful that we are not sending them double messages by not matching our talk with our walk.
- Focus on what is important. Every communication is limited, so pick your topics well. Don’t waste time on unimportant issues.
- 3. Try to make your communication positive. Give them hope for the future. Saying to the adolescent that he has “ruined his life” or he is “grounded forever” does not provide a hope that a relationship and trust can be restored at some point.
- Be very clear and specific. Avoid vague language. It’s important to remember that in dealing with conflict you need to stay focused on the issue. Don’t let fear drive you to “beat around the bush.” Be direct.
- Test all of your assumptions verbally and personally. Don’t let your presumptions become judgments. Be fair by seeking the facts. In other words, clarify, clarify, and clarify.
- Respect the individuality of every person. Recognize that the same event can be seen from different viewpoints, and honest disagreements should be expected.
- Be fair-minded. Recognize that being an expert on others and their behavior is easy, but not constructive. Learn to be an expert on yourself, your actions, and your communication.
- Seek to prevent discussions from turning into destructive arguments. It’s important to utilize time outs for everyone when the communication gets tense.
- Be open and honest about your feelings. Attempt to use statements like “I feel.”
- Avoid unfair communication techniques. Issuing ultimatums, heavy-handed blame, manipulation and other attack methods will drive others away or provoke angry responses.
Verbal Roadblocks to Good Communication
If we are to be good communicators, we should always choose our words carefully and pay attention to the way we deliver them. In the heat of the moment or under the pressure of stress and frustration it is all too easy to say things that can be hurtful to young people and which can negatively affect their self-concept. When dealing with young people, avoid the following communication roadblocks.
Ordering, directing, commanding:
- “Just sit down and shut up until you hear what I have to say.”
- “Take out the trash, clean your room, and don’t give me any more of your lip!”
- “Turn that music down or I’m going to come in there and smack you.”
- “If you do that one more time and you may as well not bother to come home.”
- “You have it pretty easy here. Why, when I was your age . . .”
- “Your older sister made the honor role and there’s no reason why you . . .”
- “If I were you, I would . . . ”
- “Why don’t you try . . .”
- Giving advice can be a helpful mode of communication if it is asked for and welcomed, but not if it seems to be controlling or is a put down.
Judging, criticizing, blaming
- “You should have known better, that was a stupid thing to do.”
- “You never seem to do anything right.”
Name calling, ridiculing, shaming
“You dummy. Are you too dense to figure that out?
“Nice going Bozo, you just embarrassed the entire family.”
- “You’re just angry at me because you know that I’m right.”
- “You’re afraid of failing and that’s why you won’t even try.”
“Stand back and let me show you how to do this.”
“You are doing it all wrong. Watch me now and I’ll show you the right way.”