As a teenager, there are things that I could never have mentioned to my parents. It clearly is a cycle, because there are things that my brother, 17, chooses to share with me and not our parents.
I interacted with two teens and got great insights on some of the things they wished parents knew with the guidance of Florence Mueni, a Child and Youth Counsellor.
She helped us get into the mind of a teenager and offered possible solutions to both teens and parents for healthier relationships.
“Communication between a parent and a child is usually good until a certain age, where things begin to change,” she says.
From a psychological point of view, she explains that as a child’s brain grows, he or she is able to know that they will be judged for doing something, or asking for something.
THEY PREFER PEERS
“Most of the time, it leads to the child’s mentality of ‘mum or dad will refuse if I ask them’. As the child becomes an adolescent, they find communicating with their peers better than communicating with their parents. They tend to withhold some information from them because of different reasons,’ she added.
The first is that consciously, teenagers are aware that their parents will not approve of certain behaviours. Another reason they hesitate to ask is that they presume that the parents’ answer will be in the negative, or full of anger.
Adolescents may also fail to communicate with their parents because they have never really been able to do so since childhood. Communication is something that is built, and if it was never there in earlier years, it will not automatically happen for the two parties.
Some adolescents also feel that their parents treat them like children, hence they will not have the opportunity to be heard. They know that their parents will talk at them, not to them. They may fear their parents, and the fact that they may fail to be understood.
Mercy*, 17, is a Form Three student. She says that she has always been afraid of her parents. They are completely unapproachable and she wishes that she could open a channel of communication with them.
“I have experienced this a lot in my years as a child psychologist. There is the need and the willingness to communicate about some issues from the adolescent. There just seems to be a barrier that stops it from happening.
Parents: As much as your young adult’s brains are still developing in terms of making decisions, being able to give them the reassurance that you are willing to listen to their problems goes a long way. We understand that most of the time, you are busy trying to cater for their needs.
Adolescents: Communication is a two-way process, so you can also find a way of initiating it. Be strategic in the way you choose to talk to your parents as well. First, find the time and ask your parents to set it, or any other time of their convenience, aside for you to speak with them. It will also be good if you can suggest the place that will be comfortable enough for you. State the issue of discussion in a way that the parent can understand.
Face to face is the first and best method you can try because you and your parent will be able to see and respond to each other for things to be handled. Even though this may be difficult for some of you, it is good to gather up the courage to approach them, even if it means practicing.
If this fails, you can send a text message or leave a note. Note that it is best for you to do this only to initiate the meeting.
For the most unapproachable parent, use a medium to intervene. This should be a trusted person who will not betray the confidentiality. It could be a god-parent, an uncle, an aunt or a close family friend.”
Greg* is 16 years old and in Form Two. He says that his father never takes anything he says into consideration. He barely asks for his side of the story whenever an argument arises.
Children’s opinions really matter. The mistakes most parents make is to assume that their children’s opinions do not matter simply because they are not of age, or that they are still their babies. This is especially in decisions that have direct consequences on the adolescent. There is a famous Nigerian quote that states You cannot cut my hair in my absence. This really applies to the adolescents, because their views really matter in some decision making processes.
Parents, once you seek your child’s opinion in matters that affects him/her, it not only creates an environment for communication to thrive positively, but also teaches them to start making decisions at an early age. You do not want to have an adult in the near future who will not able to make even the smallest decisions for themselves simply because you did so for them at an earlier stage.
It is one thing to seek their opinion, and another to put these opinions into consideration. The adolescent will need feedback as to why their opinions were not taken into consideration, if that happens. It is only fair to do so. Seeking their opinion is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom.