We’re not just talking about the obvious types of verbal abuse, here. I think we all realize that yelling and screaming expletives and cruel names is out of line. But there are more subtle forms of problem communication that can really put up barriers in your relationship with your teen. The Golden Rule applies, and I’m pretty sure none of us want our kids using these kinds of communication techniques on us.
Genuine, open communication is hard — especially if you didn’t grow up seeing (or hearing) it modeled. But it’s worth the effort, since it can pay dividends in our children’s lives and in the lives of those they touch.
Maybe it’s the full silent treatment, or maybe it’s just pretending to not hear a question. Both are forms of passive-aggressive behavior that can be hurtful. While the latter is deceptive, the former may be more damaging than yelling.
The basic message you’re sending in refusing to communicate is that your relationship with your child is unimportant. By refusing to listen or speak, you’re essentially cutting off your child emotionally, which can cause the same kind of pain as literal physical abandonment.
With the popularity of social media, many parents — especially parents of teens — are increasingly public about their “thankless jobs” and seem to thrive on finding sympathy from one another. As a parent of preschoolers, I’ve been shocked at how many parents of teens will tell me to “enjoy them at that age, because soon enough, they’ll be teenagers!” I’ve watched their own children’s crestfallen expressions, as a result of their comments.
Parenting is hard work, and teens can be difficult. But when we make sure everyone knows it, the message we’re sending our teens is far from, “You are loved, and I treasure you.”
Whether it’s a physical blemish or a behavior problem, how we talk about our teens’ imperfections can shape the way they perceive themselves as well as the trust level in our relationships with them. While we may joke about teenagers being embarrassed by their parents’ mere existence, purposeful embarrassment is hurtful.
If it’s over something your teen cannot control, critical comments from you are just as hurtful as hearing them from a peer — if not more so. If it’s over a behavior problem or past failure, digging it up again fails to show love (1 Corinthians 11) and reveals the kind of unforgiving spirit we hope no one has toward us.
Often, as parents, our extreme communication techniques are veiled attempts at control and asserting our authority. We have authority and can feel free to graciously but firmly instruct and inform our teens as we see fit. However, when we choose these more subtle, passive-aggressive forms of communication, we rob ourselves of the kind of open, honest discourse of which strong relationships are made.