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One of the most common coaching questions, as well as most common class questions, I receive has to do with how to improve communication between mom and her teen son.

  • First, she LIKES her son and she enjoys connecting with him. (As the adolescent pall drops into place, her affection for him all of a sudden seems inexplicable to him. “Why does she always want to be around me?! Mom, can’t you just back off?! Get a life, would you?!”)
  • Secondly, she does not view grunts or mono-syllabic replies to be actual communication. (“You won’t believe how demanding my mom is! Nothing I ever say to her is right!”) 
  • Did anyone notice that girls (read “moms” here) and guys have gender differences in communication styles and preferences? NOTE: Take a look at Deborah Tannen’s work which highlights “genderlect,” ways we differ in speaking based on gender!
  • And maybe, just maybe, embedded in this somewhere is a basic fear something like: I know as he grows up, we won’t be like we always were, but is he going to walk out of my life, this darling boy I love so dearly?  (Where does she get these crazy ideas? She’s my MOM! WHAT?*&#) 

So I especially appreciate a recent report from the front lines from a working mom who just likes to text her high school age son during the day to let him know she’s thinking about him, to check in a bit. But whenever she’d text, he wouldn’t reply. And worse, if she was with his dad (her husband) and he’d text the kid, the kid WOULD reply! I think it goes without saying that it hurt her feelings. So, this wise mom asked her husband to ask her son how come he didn’t reply to mom’s texts.  The boy confided that if he did reply, there’d be another text, then another. . . he didn’t have time or maybe was busy with his pals. . . so he just learned to never reply.

Now mom didn’t hot-foot it back to her son, instead allowing herself time to think about his point of view. Approaching it sidelong, she mentioned to him that she is hoping to improve their communication and thought maybe there was a rough spot in their texting. Together, they devised a system by which she could text and he could determine if she wanted a reply. By typing “DTB”, she let him know “don’t text back;” but if her message included “TB,” he knew she was expecting to be texted back with his reply, as in “What time will you be home for dinner?” Magically, a huge piece of tension between them dropped away.

This mom reported a final piece of blazing wisdom saying, “I’d been telling myself that I just expected him to meet me half way in our communication. But I realized that actually, I’d been expecting him to come all the way to my style of communication. When I realized that I’d have to be part of the solution, part of creating a new mutually-agreeable way to connect, my frustration dropped. Best of all, we’re actually doing much better and communicating!”

This week, think about the ways communication between your teen and you may have to change. Would it be possible to formulate a new style based on input from both of you? Do your teens know that you LIKE to have them in your life  . . . and hope that they’ll want to have you in theirs? Would it help to convey,

 “Connecting with you is really important to me.

I wonder what could we do to make our communication even better?”

As ever, I love to hear your comments.