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Breaking the Code for Better Parent-Teen Communication

Hilary Frankel and her friend, Lara Fox, spent a year trying to discover the keys to understanding between their parents and their peers. The two teens summarized what they found in a book titled, Breaking the Code.

Appearing on ABC television, Hilary and Lara said their book lays out what teens really hear when their parents speak to them. For example, Lara says, when a kid gets a bad grade on an exam and the parent says, 'Look on the bright side, some other kids did much worse,' the teenager hears:

"Stop overreacting! It's not important!," says Lara. " It might not be that important, but that concept doesn't help them feel better, it just bothers them. They are upset and want to be left alone."

And, says Hilary, they don't want to hear their parents talk about their teenage experiences.

"Because," she says, " it was so different back then. It feels like it was a million years ago!"

'You may not appreciate what I'm saying now, but you'll be thankful later on,' is another common parental statement with a different meaning for kids.

"You aren't mature enough to understand,"says Hilary. "and I don't have time to explain it now. Forget about it."

Before giving advice, Lara says, parents need to understand that their good intentions are not enough. Prefacing a conversation with a few words, she explains, can help open teenagers' ears and minds.

"So if you say to your teen, 'I know you know this already, but just hear me out; I feel the need to say it; it makes me feel better,'" says Lara, "Your teen will humor you and listen to you.

Lara and Hilary say parents expect teenagers to be respectful, and that's also what teenagers expect from their parents.

"You have to show us that respect," says Hilary, "because otherwise we're just going to shut you out. Show that they are not kids anymore, but they aren't adults and you still need to talk openly and honestly."

"Also," says Lara, "don't barge into their rooms. Ask them,' Can we talk in 20 minutes, or after your favorite show is done?'

Respect is one of the most important building blocks not only for a constructive conversation, but also for a healthy relationship between parents and teens, according tosays one way parents can show respect for their kids is by not comparing them to others.

"Never as a parent compare a kid to a sibling or a neighbor's kid simply because it communicates a lack of worth," says Mr. Covey. "It shows a kind of conditional love. I think we all struggle with it. I'm a parent and it's hard not to do. The most important thing is just to communicate self worth, 'whether you are number one in your class or not, I love you and you are an important person.'"

Mr. Covey says despite all the influences in a teenager's life, parents can still affect their teens through the way they communicate with them. "The way you teach the teen is not by preaching at them, but share stories about success," says Mr. Covey. "They learn from stories, it works with them."

Mr. Covey says people are not born with good parenting skills, but they can acquire them and learn how to talk with their children as they grow. And with a little advice from teens like Lara Fox and Hilary Frankel, unlocking the secrets to better parent-child communication is a bit easier.