By Margie Wuebker
MINSTER -- Talking to teenagers effectively can be one of the greatest challenges facing parents.
Family Resource Center counselors Amy Bruns, Melissa Meyer and Sara Dieringer shared pointers on opening the lines of communication during a Tuesday night program at Minster Middle School.
"It's tough to talk to kids," Dieringer admitted. "Been there, done that. The first step believe it or not comes through listening -- listening without interrupting, arguing or giving advice."
The top two reasons parents fail to listen is they are too busy or they feel hopeless. Other reasons include putting off the matter until later, knowing the answer already, being mad at the teenager and not wanting to hear the same thing over and over, she said.
"Failing to take time to listen sends negative messages -- you are not interested, you don't care, you don't have time and what teens have to say is not important," Dieringer said. "If you can't take a minute to listen to the little things, do you think they will come to you with the big things? I don't think so." Non-verbal body language can speak volumes. A parent may express an interest in listening but continuing to look through the checkbook or work on the computer conveys an entirely different message.
"It only takes a split second to convey a negative message," Bruns said. "Teens can spot it in the first face you make."
In addition to establishing eye contact with the teenager, she also recommends a parent rephrase or repeat what the child has said. This not only increases understanding but provides an opportunity for the child to clarify the issue.
Meyer noted conversations often come to an abrupt end when a parent proclaims "Because I said so" without listening to a teen's reasons for wanting to do something or go somewhere."
"Parents feel those words put them in control and that's enough," she added. "You have to give teens some freedom and reasons, even though you may agree to disagree."
Bruns agreed, adding parents sometimes talk too much instead of listening. They also look ahead two, three or even four years down the road while teens are concerned with the moment.
"Let them tell you their reasons," she added. "At least they will feel they are being heard. There may come a time when you as parents understand."
The counselors also warned about the importance of addressing behavior without attacking the child. Reason and logic may not be effective tools in communicating with children who are driven by emotion.
They recommended using "I messages" when talking to young people. A parent could explain "I am scared something might have happened when you come home late." Such a message allows the child to understand how the parent feels and represents no verbal attack.
Dieringer recommends thinking before you speak to avoid sarcasm and ridicule. "Children often forget what we say, but not how we make them feel."
Young people face very real fears -- not fitting in, dealing with peer pressure and failing to meet expectations. They often set exceptionally high standards and then feel worthless when their efforts fall short.
"This is not unique to Minster," Meyer said. "It happens everywhere."
The program, which was planned weeks ago, took place in the wake of a tragic accident that claimed the life of high school junior Kate Trushaw.
The counselors, some of whom have been at the school since the weekend accident, warned parents that teens who knew and loved her are now working through various stages of grief, anger and denial on the way to acceptance.
One woman in the audience, who lost a brother 29 years ago, commended the support being offered by teachers, staff and the entire community. However, she warned the need for support will continue after the funeral.
"The support will be needed more than ever when normal life resumes, and you are left with a great big hole in your heart," the woman said as other attendees nodded in agreement.
Superintendent Gayl Ray has proposed a series of programs in coming months to address concerns parents feel. Dates will be publicized as they are set.