My son, Aryan is 14 years old. Since the last one year, our communication seems to have taken a turn for the worse. He feels that I am unable to understand him, however, I feel that he is being more evasive and less open in his talks. There seems to be a barrier, which hampers our relationship. He has even stopped telling me about his school and what is going on with his life. How can I improve my communication with my child?
Aryan is going through the adolescence where he would be confused about what he should talk and what he should learn to keep with himself. Some guidelines for a dialogue with your teenage son are given here. Stay available and emotionally involved, showing love, support, commitment and interest in him. With Aryan, he will need you at a moment’s notice and if you give him psychological air, he will be able to gather himself in a moment. Offer affection and protection with challenges and structure according to what he can handle. You will have to come out of your own autobiography and communicate at his level. Just as there is growth in physical structure of the body, there is a developmental growth of mental and emotional structures even though these are areas are largely unseen and the evidence is not as direct and plain. Do not attempt to shortcut, violate or bypass the process. If you do not make a sincere effort to understand Aryan’s mental development and do not communicate on his level of awareness, you will often find yourself making unreasonable expectations of him and being frustrated when he cannot seem to come through. Be firm and flexible about guidelines, allowing for increased negotiating powers. Adolescents have a tendency to abuse freedom. This is because he is himself unclear about what his boundaries are. Self-discipline comes in three stages: Trying out the limits by exploration. Teasing to evoke from others a clear sense of what is okay and what is not. Internalizing these previously unknown boundaries. This brings a lot of guidelines in form of self-discipline. Help him learn from his mistakes through self-reflection and discussion. Ask questions. Listen. Search for and find opportunities to congratulate, respect and praise. Avoid labeling, judging and devaluing. Validate and encourage his capacity to cope. Do not take interactions personally. Help him ask and explore important questions. Support his dreams, while helping him to plan, organize, and follow activities to completion. Make it possible for him to call for help verbally rather than by acting up. Validate and support emerging mature, autonomous behavior. Give him some slack for moodiness, mouthiness and distancing. Ask if something is wrong when behavior changes. Remember he has a lot of inside work to do that he does not relate to you. Respect (You do not have to like) his peer choices. Low-key, accepting, calm parents hear more and if you keep your patience, he will keep talking to you. Promote greater differentiation while not disrupting enduring family connections. Permit conflict and guide discussions. Help him develop disciplined conformity to society’s necessary rules and expectations. Value stimulating conversations with different points of view. Remember and him them that adolescence is a process. Foster a sense of comfortable continuity. Let him set the pace and timing of close and distant interactions. Many times, you will be faced with a behavior that confuses you as to why Aryan is unable to cope up with. At that time, teach him to categorize the problem as a problem of values, or a problem of competency or a problem of motivation. Based on the response, you can help him direct his efforts effectively. If it is a value question, the solution lies in education and strengthening ethics. If it is a competency question, adequate training will help him more. If it is a question of motivation, the answer lies in reinforcing the behavior either intrinsically or extrinsically or in combination. There will be times when you will be asked to give feedback. Remember to be very careful. It can be very hard to do so. Aryan may not want to hear what does not match his self-image and what reflects something less than what he has in mind. Everyone, including Aryan has blind spots – areas in his life, which he does not want to see, but needs to be changed or improved. So approach with positive energy, love and respect. You need to give feedback that improves your relationship rather than hamper it. Ask yourself if the feedback is really to help or to fulfill your own need to set him right. If there is anger inside you, it is probably not the time or the place to give feedback. Separate Aryan from his behavior. Describe your feelings and consequences about a behavior instead of putting a label on him. Do not give feedback on something, which he cannot realistically do anything about. Do not judge him. Do not give in to him but do not give up on him either. Remember that the level of trust determines the level of communication. Treat him as an equal while giving feedback as if the feedback is your perception and not the absolute truth. This will make him feel that he is not judged all the time. When he has done his best, whether it meets your standards or not is irrelevant. When he has completed a major task or project, or has accomplished something that required supreme effort, always express admiration, appreciation and praise. Give the constructive feedback later when he is ready for it. At that time, praise the heart that went into the effort. Praise his worth. You are not compromising your integrity when you take such an encouraging, appreciating, affirming approach. You are simply focusing on that which is more important than some nervous definition of excellence.