Say WHAT? Helping Teens Communicate Effectively

Help your teen communicate assertively without being aggressive.
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Being a teenager is tumultuous. If you're a parent of a teen, you may be familiar with your adolescent's overwhelming sadness, angry outbursts or difficulty managing relationships.

There are lots of things that can go wrong with a relationship — whether it's with a parent, sibling, teacher, coach or friend — if your child is not communicating properly. A good first step is for your teen to evaluate his or her communication style.

Defining Communication Style

Consider sitting down with your teen and answering the following questions together.

• Do you try to push your feelings away rather than express them to others?
• Do you worry expressing yourself will cause others to be angry or to not like you?
• Do you often hear yourself saying, "I don't care" or "It doesn't matter to me," when you do care, and it actually does matter?
• Do you try not to "rock the boat," keeping quiet in order to not upset others?
• Do you often go along with others' opinions because you don't want to be different?

• Are you concerned with getting your own way, regardless of how it affects others?
• Do you often yell, swear or use other aggressive means of communicating?
• Are your friends often afraid of you?
• Do you not care if others get what they need as long as your needs are met?

• Do you have a tendency to be sarcastic in conversations with others?
• Do you give people the silent treatment when you're angry with them?
• Do you often find yourself saying one thing but really thinking another?
• Are you generally reluctant to express your emotions in words, resorting instead to aggressive behaviors, like slamming doors?

• Do you believe you have the right to express your opinions and emotions?
• When you're having a disagreement with someone, can you express your opinions and emotions clearly and honestly?
• Do you treat others with respect and respect yourself during communication?
• Do you listen closely to what other people are saying, sending the message that you're trying to understand their perspective?
• Do you try to negotiate with the other person if you have different goals, rather than to focus only on getting your own needs met?

How to Communicate Assertively Without Being Aggressive

The best way to communicate is by being assertive. Here are some things that will help your teen in developing the skills necessary to get points across effectively and improve the quality of his or her relationships.

Be clear about what you want.

Decide exactly what you want in a situation, then, clearly, honestly and specifically, say what it is you want to say. Try to state your own feelings first in order to come across as you taking responsibility for your own emotions, rather than blaming the other person for how you feel. Other people are not always going to agree with the choices you make, but how they feel is their responsibility, not yours.

Listen mindfully.

Being assertive isn't just about getting your own needs met — it's also about trying to meet the needs of the other person, so you both come away happy. Listening mindfully means with your full attention, noticing when your mind wanders and bringing it back to the present moment.

Be nonjudgmental.

This will help to reduce the amount of emotional pain you experience. You know how it feels for yourself when you're being judged, so try to talk to the other person the way you would like to be spoken to. Don't blame, don't judge — just stick to the facts and how you feel about the situation.

Validate others.

Reflect back to others what they're saying so they know you're listening and understanding. If necessary, ask questions to clarify. Let them know what they have to say is important and that it makes sense, even if you don't agree.

Act according to your values and morals.

Know what your values and morals are, and stick to them. If someone asks you to do something that goes against what you believe in, you won't feel good about yourself if you agree to the request. It's perfectly OK to say no and be honest about the reason, even if it's just because you don't want to.

Don't over-apologize.

Saying you're sorry means you're taking responsibility for something — that you're taking the blame. If you're not to blame, then don't apologize. Over time, this will decrease your self-respect.

Excerpted from "Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens" (March 2011, New Harbinger). Van Dijk is a mental health therapist in Newmarket, Ontario, working with teens and adults in self-awareness, emotion regulation, crisis management and relationship improvement.