Let’s Get Real about Relationship Building with Teens
If you’re going to connect with an adolescent and you’re trying too hard, likely he or she is going to respond with “Yuck!” inside. If you’re a parent or caregiver or simply someone who cares, seeing a teen who is in trouble might prompt a desire to talk with them.
But, of course, it’s common for a teen to respond with one syllable or with a look that says, “Are you for real?’
The trick, according to psychotherapist Janet Sasson Edgette, is to make the conversation sound natural. Use everyday, normal language versus any premeditated scripts. The classic image of trying to build rapport with a teen is the adult gently probing him or her with questions while that adolescent sits in silence with a stonewalled face. The teen’s speechlessness makes every word glaringly stand out while slowly the conversation comes to an end. Teen relationships are a sensitive topic to hold, but can helped with the right steps. Learn more here.
To avoid this, the conversation itself needs to change. The quality of the relating needs to be equal and mutually revealing. Instead of speaking to a teen as though he or she is the child and you are the adult, connect with that adolescent as you would with another adult. When teens hear language that sounds phony, condescending, or patronizing, it tends to invoke a lack of trust, anxiety, defensiveness, and even anger.
Most adolescents are very protective of their dignity and deepening sense of self. For this reason, they can be unforgiving with adults who talk down to them, who play the “I know more than you” card, and who attempt to have some advantage over them.
Building trust with a teen isn’t necessarily done by promising him or her confidentiality, but rather by not invalidating them. For instance, if their stories begin to conflict, rather than pointing out those contradictions, find the meaning of their stories and focus on that. Pointing out a teen’s contradictions only leads to embarrassment and distance in joining with them.
In fact, the stronger the attempts to build rapport and the more obvious those attempts are, the more likely a teen will react. Instead, a natural, easy going approach in which you are being authentic allows for true engagement. Although most adults might tend to think that being overly empathetic and nonjudgmental will create a beginning bond, without authenticity, an adolescent will feel the phoniness and retort.
Here are some tips to consider when conversing with a teen:
- Avoid accusations or expressing your authority. Instead, lovingly and openly express your concern.
- Use natural, everyday language. This will facilitate a less threatening conversation and help your teen open up.
- Show respect for your teen. Treating an adolescent with respect and maturity facilitates him or her rising to the way in which he or she is being seen.
- Develop trust by protecting a teen’s dignity. Rather than pointing out any inconsistencies you hear in a teen’s stories – and because they are still finding themselves, inconsistencies might easily be heard – protect their developing sense of self.
- Let your teen know that you care. This can ease the feeling of loneliness that your adolescent might be experiencing if indeed he or she is facing a problem. Communicate that you will accompany your child each step of the way.
Let’s face it. Teens can read right through anything inauthentic. Being real, respectful, and honoring their developing sense of self are the ways to build true rapport with an adolescent.
– By Robert Hunt
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