Creating A Safe Place: Helping Parents and Young Adults to Communicate Better

Posted On: Feb 06, 2024By Sean Genung

Communication is the chief cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Fostering an open and safe atmosphere for a family to communicate their issues openly and honestly will go a long way to establishing a beneficial home environment.

Encourage Active Listening –

This can be challenging for both parents and teenagers, or anyone really. It takes practice to take the time to listen so that you truly understand the person you are speaking to. Active listening is not just waiting your turn to speak, it is paying close attention to what the other person is saying. It is asking questions to figure out what their perspective really is, and where it is coming from.

It’s only once you understand why someone believes what they do and where that opinion came from can you make an informed response. Active listening will help you as a family understand each other better and make everyone feel safe in speaking their opinions openly.

Setting Boundaries –

Setting boundaries is a great way to help create a safe environment. The boundaries can go both ways. From parents knocking before entering the bedroom. A boundary from the parents might be no illicit drug use at home. These boundaries should be defined clearly and precisely, with the reasons behind the boundaries clearly communicated.

Proper boundaries can help foster a safe home environment so long as they are not overly suffocating.

Honoring Differences –

Acknowledge that differences in opinions and perspectives are natural, even among family. Parents and teens will not always share the same opinions. These differences do not invalidate feelings or experiences. Rather, they provide an opportunity for growth through mutual respect and acceptance of those different experiences.

Empathy is a powerful tool in fostering understanding. Both parents and young adults can try and put themselves in each other’s shoes to help try and understand where each other is coming from, and build compassion for each other.

Parent Tips – Speaking Non-Judgmentally to Your Kids

One of the greatest things a parent can do is give their children room to make mistakes without judging them. This is more prevalent now than ever before. It used to be that if a teen messed up really bad, you could swap schools or in extreme cases move to a new city to give them a brand new start. With social media, your children and young adults’ mistakes can live on forever and are sometimes just a google search away.

This means that your home might just be the only safe place they have in their lives.

A parent’s words will never have as much power as when their kids are growing up, developing into young adults. This will extend through their teens. You can be right in everything you say, but if the effect of your words carries the opposite of what you intended, then being right won’t count for much.

How you speak is just as important as what you say. If you ever want your kids to be open and honest with you about heavier topics, such as dating, relationships, porn use, and sex lives, then you have to be mindful of your approach with even the less serious topics.

Example Parenting Situation

  • Situation: Let’s say your young adult stole something from a store. You need to get them to understand that what they did was wrong, but you don’t want them to internalize the idea that they are a bad person. If that happens, then they will either hide the things they are doing from you because they don’t want that idea reinforced, or worse, they could develop severe self-esteem issues if that idea festers.

Many young adults that start internalizing negative labels will simply shut down and not be open about the good or bad things going on in their life because once they have internalized them, they’ll dismiss the good things they are told and won’t want to endure more pain from the bad.

You could take a look at two approaches a parent might give to see the point.

  • Approach 1 –

    “Stealing is wrong. There is never a good reason to steal. You don’t want to be a thief and a criminal and go to jail, do you?”

  • Approach 2 –

    “Have you thought about the impact your decision had on the person you stole from? How do you think they are feeling about it? Have you thought about how much more you would have appreciated that item if you worked hard and earned it? How did you feel when you got caught?”

You can see the top approach has several labels your teen can internalize. “Wrong. Never Good. Thief. Criminal”. Although these labels are true when it comes to stealing, you can see how harmful those ideas would be if your teen applied them to themselves, rather than the action of stealing.

The bottom approach is one that helps guide your teen to the idea that stealing is wrong ethically. There are no labels they negatively internalize. Not only that, but that approach also helps your teen critically think about their actions and the potentially deep extending effects of them. This does not mean you don’t punish your kids, but a punishment should be a corrective action, not a judgment on their character.

Tips for Young Adults – Yes, you too!

You’ve probably realized at this point that your parents are flawed people, they are human just like you. If you are a firstborn like I was, then your parents were pretty much just trying to make things up as they went along with raising you and hoped they wouldn’t mess up too badly. Even though there are many books on parenting, there’s no end all guide to be a parent, let alone a good one.

Statistically the average age of a first time parent is 27. That doesn’t sound too old, but keep in mind Facebook came out in 2004. The internet came out only 20 years before that. The world is rapidly evolving technologically as well as culturally and the world your parents grew up in is completely different from the one you did.

It will often seem like sometimes they “just don’t get it”, and sometimes that is actually the case, but it may not be their fault. Sometimes it will feel like people from different planets trying to get along. All this to say is try and give your parents a bit of a break if they aren’t seeming to understand you. Sometimes it’s not because they are communicating poorly, it may just be they are lacking insight or information they couldn’t have known.

Approaching Your Parents with Serious Topics

If you have to approach one of your parents with something serious, timing can be key to a positive result.

For example: if you hit your parents with a serious situation the second they get home from work, you’ve likely added a bit of stress to their day which can affect how they handle the situation. Instead, saying something along the lines of

“Hey Mom/Dad, I’ve got something I need to talk to you about, let me know when would be a good time.”

This will let your parents know that something is going on, and give them some time to make sure they are in a good mental state to handle it. Don’t ambush your parents intentionally or not, both of you should be comfortable to speak and listen.

As with the tip with the parents, sometimes using softer language to discuss something can benefit you more than using hard language, even if it’s something you feel strongly about. Voicing your opinions using phrases like:

“I feel like this is wrong because of…” or “When you did this it affected me this way by…”

Rather than statements like:

“You’re wrong, this is the way it should be.” Or “You hurt me when you did this and you made a mistake.”

The latter will often put your parents in a defensive posture, even if you are right, and many times that will lead to unnecessary escalation.

Don’t distract away from communicating with your parents honestly, avoid any unnecessary or potentially hurtful comments. Parents have feelings too, as you grow up you want to foster healthy communication mutually. It goes both ways and can be just as challenging for a teen as it can be for the parent. Be patient with yourself, and each other.

Communication is the cornerstone of all healthy relationships. Both parents and young adults can work together to help build a family environment where emotions, opinions and struggles can be discussed without judgment.

It is not easy by any means, and will take a lot of work, but it is extremely worthwhile and if it isn’t worked through, you can end up with broken communication or worse a dysfunctional home.