Sickle cell disease and communication during adolescence

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With adolescence often come new communication challenges for parents and caregivers. Learn about some of the barriers to good communication and how to overcome them.

Key points

  • As your child reaches adolescence, you may experience new challenges to communicating with them.
  • Some of the challenges are that teens spend more time outside the home, leaving fewer opportunities to communicate with them, and that teens are less interested in their parents, making it hard to start conversations.
  • Communication can also be affected by a chronic health condition such as sickle cell disease.
  • Some of the things parents say and do can get in the way of good parent–teen communication, for example lecturing, being overly helpful and giving mixed messages.

Adolescence often brings new communication challenges for parents and caregivers. A change in communication style between you and your teen is often a natural part of their growing up.

Here are a few of the communication challenges other parents have noticed.

  • Teens spend more time out of the home with friends or doing activities, so they often spend less time with family, giving parents fewer opportunities to communicate with them.
  • Teens are often less interested with their parents and can be difficult to start a conversation with. It can also be difficult to pull information from teens, and some of their behaviours may seem selfish.
  • Parents may get stuck using communication strategies that worked when their teen was younger but no longer work now.

Communication between parents and teens can also be affected by a chronic health condition such as sickle cell disease. You may interact with your teen with sickle cell disease differently than you do with your other children, or your interactions may depend on whether your teen is currently experiencing painful symptoms.

Communication barriers

Communication barriers are habits that get in the way of good parent–teen communication. Most parents say and do things that get in the way of communicating with their teen at some point.

Examples of common communication barriers include:

These are explained below. See if you recognize any of these habits in how you and your teen communicate.

Lecturing and giving advice

Let’s start with an example:

Tamara has learned that she has a habit of wanting to teach her son Jamal life lessons when she talks to him. For example, Jamal told her a story about a classmate getting suspended for smoking in the school bathroom. Tamara’s immediate response was to start lecturing about the consequences of not following rules and the dangers of smoking.

Most teenagers do not want to hear regular advice from their parents and either get angry or "check out" during lectures. In Jamal’s case, he rolled his eyes at his mom’s comments and told himself not to bring up these kinds of stories with her.

A more effective way of communicating is to learn to resist the urge to teach and provide your opinion on everything your teen brings up. There are times you need to be sure your teen understands your values. But this should not be a constant way of responding to your teen. If you want to encourage your teen to come to you for anything important in their life, be open to just listening.

Coddling and being overly helpful

Another barrier is providing too much help for your teen.

Joyce liked providing for her daughter Shauna and often stepped in at the moment something was needed. Although Shauna was 15 years old, Joyce still got snacks for her, made her school lunch every day and did not expect much help with daily chores. This help also extended to how she tried to solve problems for Shauna. For instance, if Shauna described difficulties with friends or with school, Joyce often responded with, "Don't worry sweetie, I'll call the school and talk with your teacher." Unfortunately, this made it hard for Shauna to practise doing things on her own and finding her own ways to solve problems.

Instead of rushing to your teen’s aid, encourage them to solve problems on their own and support their efforts. Say things like, “What do you think you will do to deal with that? Let me know if I can help.”

Giving orders

Saying things like, "Do the dishes now! You never do what I say” is a communication style that can create challenges for parent and teen communication. Teens are not likely to listen to orders, or they will respond negatively to you.

Instead, work together to solve the problem. For example, you might say something like, "I feel frustrated when you don’t help around the house. What can we do to make it easier for you to help with chores?"

Giving mixed messages

Mixed messages occur when parents give encouragement and negative feedback at the same time. For example, Tom is giving a mixed message he says to his son, "Great job on your math test! Why couldn’t you have done this well on your other exams this semester?" Mixed messages tell your teen that they are not good enough no matter how hard they try.

Instead, provide your teen with specific praise when they do something you want them to or something you want to reinforce. For example, say, “Great job on your math test! I know you worked hard.”

Needing to have the last word

Many parents feel they need to have the last word during an argument, especially if they believe their teen is incorrect or making a mistake. However, this approach will seldom resolve a disagreement. In fact, it is likely to make your teen angrier and more argumentative.

Instead, catch yourself when you are talking to your teen and hold back from speaking for the sake of it. You could practise taking some deep breaths and being silent. It is OK to tell your teen you need to walk away and take a break. This shows your teen that you are trying to manage your emotions in healthy ways.

Last updated: March 15th 2024