In this week's 'Teen Talk' column, a young adult explains why she didn't always talk to her parents and what you can do to encourage open communication.

By Alexia Lewis
January 03, 2020

Connecting with your teen can be a tough job. Generations have become more polarized than ever and for us in Gen Z, everything seems different than it was for our parents. I know I often think that the way me and my friends communicate, the way we receive and send information, the way we view the world, and the way we conceptualize what life can and should look like is very different than it was for my parents when they were my age. That's why there were definitely times throughout high school that I didn't go to my parents for advice, or tell them what I was going through at school or with my friends. I assumed they just would not understand or be able to help, so I didn't want to bother starting a conversation.

If you're wondering why you get a one-word answer when you ask your teen how their day is, or why they fly past you and go straight to their room when they get home, there may be some communication barriers that you don't know about. Navigating these starts with consciousness and awareness. Here's what your teen may be thinking and what you as a parent can do to break down those walls.

Illustration by Ana Celaya

"I should only come to you when things are serious."

We realize you're busy, overwhelmed, our biggest cheerleader, and especially our biggest critic. Often, we develop a threshold of things to communicate with you around those barriers. If it's not serious, like life or death, we don't bring it to you. Why? Reasons can vary from believing you won't have interest to feeling like you don't have time.

What parents can do: It's important to make us feel like you care about the little things, that you'll follow every detail of our sports team woes and our friendship dramas, and that you won't see them as minuscule because we're young. Hearing from you during those small moments makes a difference in our lives.

"Who I'm evolving into is different from who you imagined I'd be."

It's only natural to project your beliefs into the people around you. But when it comes to your teen, it can determine what we tell you about our lives. We all are individuals, and while we are your children, we will be our own people. And that doesn't just start once we turn 18. We're developing into our own unique beings every day.

What parents can do: If we know that you'll embrace our individuality regardless of what you hoped for us, we'll know we can continue to share ourselves with you. That means we want you to show support in how we look, sound, choose to identify, or even how we dream, love, and explore.  This can start early by supporting us in our ever-changing hobbies and learning about our interests. Knowing that a parent supports us through these changes is vital to your communication with us.

"I'm not perfect, and I'm afraid you won't be proud."

The worst moments ever for a teen happen when we tell our parents something difficult to share and we get a negative response. Or if our parents react rapidly before giving us a chance to explain the situation. When this happens, it's clear to us that our parents didn't give any thought to how we are feeling in the moment. Those reactions can scar us for life and hinder us from coming to you when we make mistakes or actually do need your help.

What parents can do: When we tell you something you don't agree with, please try not to jump at us. Instead, be gentle. One bad reaction can get you kicked off our communication list, and in no time you'll be back to getting those one-word responses.

The Bottom Line

Be engaged with your teens by asking about our day and really listen to our answers. This conversation should not be a part of your to-do list that you get to check off as it happens. We need to know that you care what we have to say. You can show that through your commitment to being a part of our lives. That's how my parents get to know what is going on in my day.

Alexia Lewis is a 21-year-old student at Hampton University majoring in Political Science. Alexia is a passionate change-maker and hopes to continue to fight for the greater good as a socio-political global game-changer. Through writing, speaking, and hard work, she’s determined to make a difference. 

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