“She texts all night long!”
“She won’t put that stupid phone down for one second!”
“She cares more about that phone than her own family!”
“I can’t talk to her anymore — I can only TEXT HER!”
Have you or someone you know uttered these statements about a teenager? I heard all of those statements during a recent parent-teen mediation.
Parenting a Teenager is Hard!
Communication has always been challenging between adolescents and their parents. Hormones are raging. The pursuit of independence is in full swing. Relationship drama abounds.
If we are honest with ourselves we can reflect and relate to some of what our teens are experiencing. There is one dynamic that we cannot relate too – that we did not experience: texting and social media.
Communication patterns have changed. Long-held assumptions about communication must be set aside. For example:
- When a teenager says they got in to an “argument” with their mother was it in person or by text message?
- When a teenager says they’ve “talked” to a friend about an issue, was it in person or by Facebook message?
- When a teenager says they were “told” something, was it directly or through Twitter?
There are so many benefits to the advances in technology. When it comes to conflict, however, technology often hinders effective communication in the family home.
Tone and body language typically convey information and feelings more accurately than words alone. Yet, texting, emailing, and social media are usually limited to a string of words and abbreviations. Or symbols. LOL
So much is lost in such a communication. Questions linger… Is he being sarcastic or serious? Is she asking or telling? Does he really mean it?
The Conflicts That Come Along with Parenting a Teenager
This is the context for adolescent life in today’s instant communication culture. Introducing hot button topics to this context makes parenting a teenager exceptionally challenging. Examples of such issues:
School refusal…Curfew…Dating…Family obligations…Money…Driving…Parties…Choice of friends…Planning for life after high school…Substances…Swearing…Chores…
The effort towards open communication can lead to yelling, walking away, ignoring messages, and too often a failure to resolve the argument. Sadly, this can lead to a complete breakdown in face-to-face communication.
When parents and their teens reach an impasse that is untenable — or can barely speak to each other calmly — there are a few (of many) steps that can be taken.
Embrace the Technology
Some parents have embraced the technology. They text their kids. They communicate over Facebook. They find ways to connect with their kids using their kids’ tools and language. In fact, a recent study from Brigham Young University has found that teens whom are connected to their parents via social media feel closer to their parents in their day to day lives.
Go do something fun! That’s right — rather than arguing find something that your teen would love to do…and go do it with them. Participating in activities, meals, and car rides are often the best ways to develop conversation with teenagers in an organic way.
The Hybrid Approach
Ideally, parents are blending the idea of embracing technology with the old-fashioned strategies related to personal connection. Retweet an interesting activity to your teen and ask them if they’d want to participate. Text them spontaneously and ask if they would like to go out for dinner. Share a review of a community event on Facebook. Ultimately, using technology serves as a platform for personal engagement between parents and their children.
And If You’re Still Stuck
There is no shame in asking someone to help when it comes to parenting a teenager. If you are tired of fighting through texting, interpreting acronyms like LOL and OMG, and have an important problem to solve, reach out to a favorite uncle; consult with a therapist or mediator; check in with the guidance counselor; talk to a friend. Often, it can be quite helpful having someone available — personally or professionally — to help the communication between a parent and a child.
At least that’s what I think, IMHO… (translation: in my humble opinion)
What other suggestions do you have about parent-teen conflict in the social media age?
About the Author: Ben Stich is a professional divorce and family mediator in Massachusetts. He specializes in working with parents and teens, divorcing couples, divorced parents, and couples that want to stay married. His blog helps families improve communication and manage family conflict.