I have spent a decade talking to teens. As an educator, mentor, speaker and a parent, I have spoken to teens from different backgrounds, different ethnicities and even different nationalities. However, I have found more commonalities than differences . For example, they all wanted their thoughts, emotions and ideas to be taken seriously, and they all wanted to be heard. Like, really heard!
All I can say is that I have learnt from each of these communications. I have learnt about a fascinating young world. And though very often, I have been tempted to say that I was a teen once, and I know how they feel, the fact is that I don’t. Not always. That’s because my world was different. And I admit that their world is a lot more complicated than mine. Very often, we adults forget that. Agreed that basic human emotions and experiences remain the same, but the contexts do change. Therefore, comparisons between their worlds and ours are unfair, and unnecessary. So, when I talk to these young persons, I find myself listening with fascination. They offer me insights of their their rapidly changing world (and vocabulary), and through them, I catch a glimpse of what the future holds for us all.
If you are a parent, educator, or just another person talking to a teen, I would say, pause. Conversations with these young persons would require time and patience, and a very non-judgemental mind. If you approach these conversations from a place of ‘I know more than them’, then you would have lost a beautiful opportunity to learn.
Here are some of my personal tips on how to communicate with teens:
1) Treat a young person as an equal. In many ways, they really are.
2) Listen more. Keep suggestions and advices to yourself, unless asked.
3) Minimize mentions of past failures, and never compare one to another.
4) Pre-Teens and teens are developing their own identity, nurture this journey. Don’t impose yours, or someone else’s identity on them.
5) Let them explore who they are and what matters to them. It’s better that they waver now than later. So, allow wavering thoughts, ideas and allow experimentations.
6) Feel free to share your thoughts and insecurities as well. Empathy works both ways.
7) Sometimes, people express their ideas better by writing them down. Explore that channel of communication as well.
8) Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions. “What do you feel about it?” or “Does it bother you?” can be asked.
9) Stay interested. Look interested. (Checking your phone messages comes under ‘not being interested’).
10) Like in any conversation, regardless of age, avoid saying things that are spiteful, and demeaning.
11) Lastly, respecting their ideas does not mean letting go of yours. Keeping an open mind does not mean being a pushover. Conversations are more interesting between equals. So, don’t start a conversation with the aim to please. Remember rule #1. They are equals. When needed, agree to disagree, they will respect you more. However, do it in a calm manner. As an adult, one assumes, you would have more control of your emotions than they have.