This article was written by Youth Advisory Board member Maria Marungo with contributions by fellow member Justin Robinson.
Check Preconceived Assumptions at the Door
When you are having a conversation with a parent or trusted adult, you want to know that they have an open mind. Return the favor and do your best not to enter a conversation with preconceived ideas or assumptions. Before beginning a conversation (especially if you know it’s going to be a tough one!), make sure to leave your assumptions behind.
Keeping an open mind can take some hard work. A first step is being aware of your own beliefs and views about the topic in advance. Then, you have to consider what you might assume about what others’ know or feel about the topic. Hardest of all is acknowledging your own blind spots — which means knowing that you might not know everything. This lets you enter conversations with an informed but open mind.
Be Open to Other Points of View
The first step to conflict resolution and better communication is a willingness to be open to other points of view. Realize that others may not share your views or ideas about the world. Remain open to learning from them. Be willing to compromise or admit you might be wrong.
Think about it this way. By definition, a conversation involves more than one participant. The best conversations have give-and-take. That means listening to others involved, appreciating points of view and opinions, and not making assumptions that you know what others are thinking or feeling.
Improving conversations with parents can be as easy as asking them questions. “What do you mean by that?” “Can you help me understand what that means?” These kinds of questions make parents feel heard. They also establish an expectation of ongoing dialogue. Asking questions can also help streamline a discussion or resolve an argument. When they answer, you can respond: “I’m listening,” “I hear you,” or “I am trying to understand.”
Get On the Same Page
Disagreements often exist purely because of a lack of complete information or misunderstanding of the facts. Sometimes, people assume everyone’s on the same wavelength, without ever checking in with one another. This can lead to miscommunication.
Other times, when we see our parents act a certain way, we might automatically jump to the assumption that it is all about us or because of something we did. When we do not take the time to ask questions and understand what is really going on, we continue this cycle of see-and-judge, creating false ideas in our own heads. For example, your parent might have had a bad day at work. Their lack of patience might have nothing to do with you.
Don’t Assume What Parents Do and Don’t Know
When we are going through a difficult situation, we may just need support and comfort from our parents. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to ask for help. Parents can’t offer support unless you ask for it. Invite them into your life.
Sometimes we assume they know what we are going through or feeling. We get frustrated when they’re not offering support. But they likely don’t really know unless we tell them. Other times, we think they know nothing — that they couldn’t possibly understand our lives. So, we close down and choose not to share, possibly losing useful support. The truth is that they may not know what it means to be a teen today. But by helping them to understand better, they’ll be more likely to come through for you.
We often assume parents will react a certain way. That may prevent us from sharing. But staying silent about things that are bothering us can be isolating. Fearing their reaction may create unnecessary anxiety. We should grant our parents the benefit of the doubt and shed our assumptions. Try not to predict how they will react. Even better, help them out — tell them what you need from them and what kind of a reaction will be most supportive.
Going into conversations with an open mind, void of assumptions, allows for more effective and supportive discussions. These lessons learned with our parents will help us in every relationship we have throughout our lives.
If you think this is an important message for your parents to have, share Why Not to Make Assumptions About Your Teens with them!
Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board
“If you sense something is on someone’s mind, ask them what’s bothering them. If they’re not ready to talk about it, then tell them you can talk about it later. Don’t try to force the person to say what they’re feeling.”