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7 Strategies to Improve Communication with Your Teenager


Debriefing at an Academic Summer Camp in Chicago

Debriefing at Our Loyola Chicago Junior Forum

“I want to be 100 percent independent, except for that whole money thing.”

That’s essentially what Rachel Canning, an 18-year-old honor student, alleged in a lawsuit she filed last month against her parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Canning committed the grotesque error of setting a curfew and counseling their daughter to break up with her sketchy boyfriend. Rachel retaliated by suing them for child support—$650 a month to be exact.

The suit was dropped two weeks later, and Rachel is living with her parents again.

Of course, in your home a teenager seeking independence is anything but breaking news. You may be dealing with this kind of drama every day, although without the attorneys and press coverage.

However, raising teenagers doesn’t have to be “like nailing Jell-O to the wall,” as the saying goes.

Over the past 30 years, we’ve worked with more than 70,000 students at SuperCamp. We’ve seen it all, and we’ve learned a lot—including the fact that a little positive communication goes a long way.

It’s hard not to get stuck in the same negative communication patterns, especially when your teenager is refusing to see things from any other angle besides their own. But enlist these tips from Bobbi DePorter next time you face an impasse or an argument, and you may very well shift the conversation for the better and improve communication overall:

  1. Know your teen’s “likes.” At SuperCamp, we often say “theirs to ours and ours to theirs.” That is, in order for you to establish trust and connection, you must first build an authentic bridge into your child’s world. Find out what kind of music your teens like, who they admire, and what they enjoy reading. Even better, listen to your teen’s favorite music together!
  2. Use positive language. “Remember your jacket” is more effective than “Don’t forget your jacket.” If someone tells us not to do something, we naturally want to do it. Framing your directions in a positive light bypasses this inclination.
  3. Hold back on unwanted advice. How many times has your spouse tried to fix a problem when all you wanted was a listening ear? Unwanted advice immediately shuts down the conversation. Listen first, and then ask how you can help.
  4. Be silly, playful, and crazy. Our SuperCamp grads form amazingly strong, often lifelong friendships with each other. Why? Because nothing bonds two people like fun. Schedule a family outing once a month, go on vacation together, and share inside jokes. You’ll be amazed at how emotional walls crumble when you’re laughing and playing together.
  5. Lend an ear. The simplest way to connect with your teen is to listen. We often sabotage conversations by being too quick to give feedback or with body language that communicates we aren’t fully present. Take your teen out to dinner and really pay attention to what your child has to say.
  6. Experiment with OTFD. It stands for “Observations, Thoughts, Feelings, and Desires.” When feelings are hurt, most of us resort to one of two behaviors—stuffing our emotions or exploding at the person who hurt us. OTFD gives us an alternative by helping us to express our observations, thoughts, feelings, and desires, which usually diffuses the situation and leads to a peaceful resolution.
  7. Practice the 4-Part Apology. We all mess up sometimes. Take ownership of your mistakes—and encourage your teen to do the same—with the 4-Part Apology. An honest apology goes a long way to repair trust.

OTFD and the 4-Part Apology are examples of the communication strategies we teach at SuperCamp. It’s no surprise, then, that 77% of SuperCamp grads report an improvement in their family relationships. We even have a special parent session at the end of the camp, so you can reinforce your teen’s newfound skills at home.

SuperCamp enrollment is underway. Get in touch with an enrollment specialist today at 800.228.5327 to find out more or enroll online.

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Since 1982 SuperCamp has increased the academic and personal success of 73,000 students. Participants experience breakthrough learning, the 8 Keys of Excellence principles to live by, self-discovery, deep friendships, and fun! They learn valuable collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity strategies, and how to apply their SuperCamp experiences and skills to school, college, career, and life.
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