By Barb Arland-Fye
Communicating effectively with the teenager in my household is a skill I hope to master before Patrick, who turns 16 on Nov. 12, exits his teens. So, the latest Virtus Online training bulletin on “Communicating with Teens” had my undivided attention.
“Virtus” is the brand name for best practices programs that help religious organizations prevent wrongdoing and promote doing the right thing.
Because of our diocese’s commitment to Virtus training, I’ve been completing training bulletins for at least seven years. Posted monthly, these bulletins educate me about the best methods to ensure protection of children and vulnerable adults.
Paul Ashton, author of the Communicating with Teens bulletin, spoke to concerns I have about the world in which Patrick is growing up: blogging and texting with friends, engaged in social networking on Facebook and playing video games with friends who might be in another state or country!
“Society seems at odds with most things we want to accomplish with the young people in our families,” Ashton observes. That’s certainly true in our family. My husband, Steve, and I find ourselves striving to instill values that clash with fashion trends, the latest technology and transportation demands.
Take, for example, clothing preferences. Steve has zero tolerance for boxer shorts showing above jeans; our teenager tests the zero-tolerance policy on a regular basis. Choice of video games is a contentious issue for me.
Ashton suggests taking a “sound-bite” approach on a frequent basis to explain appropriate values in any discussion about computers, movies, newspapers or other media.
“Try not to allow an opportunity to pass by when you do not overlay appropriate values on a story that is shared about a school incident or one that is highlighted by the media. Using these teachable moments adds up to a lifetime of thorough faith and value-centered education that doesn’t appear to be insurmountable,” Ashton said.
That’s practical advice which makes sense in a world wired for sound bites. More challenging, though, is walking the talk when it comes to instilling values based on the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, and Jesus’ other challenging messages in all four Gospels that require us to step outside our comfort zone.
There is plenty of give and take in communicating with teenagers; we’ve found we get the most out of it when we listen to one another without interruption.
Thinking about how I process feedback, I know it’s important to provide positive feedback at the beginning and end of a discussion. Ashton reinforced that idea for me, and provided other helpful hints for communicating with my teenager.
Among those I plan to commit to memory: offer two positive suggestions for every suggestion for improvement; praise only those efforts and behaviors I consider to have been well executed; stop guessing at motives or assuming anything; ask direct questions and explore all opportunities to allow Patrick to talk about how he thinks and feels; and paraphrase the content of his message to be sure I’ve clearly understood what he’s said.
While praying together wasn’t one of the helpful hints, it’s one I would add to Ashton’s list. Prayer is an important source of communication for our family in conveying our love for and dependence on God in our daily lives.