By Ayesha K
The second step on the road to befriending your teen: Communication
Let’s me introduce you to the residents of Upturn Street, its 8.35 on a Monday morning and the Ahmed household at number 32 are preparing for their day. Mr Ahmed has already left for work and the children are finishing the last remnants of their breakfast and preparing for the imminent arrival of their school bus. Well, all the children except Sumayyah who is still in the bathroom. The anxiety levels of her mother Sawdah are rising at Sumayyah’s tardiness. She knocks on the bathroom door.
“Sumayyah! What are you doing in there? You are going to miss your bus! Hurry up!’
“I’m not coming out ever!” comes Sumayyah’s response from inside the bathroom.
Sawdah’s anxiety levels go through the roof and she starts banging on the bathroom door.
“You’d better come out right now young lady! You are going to miss your bus! I’m going to be late for my doctor’s appointment if I have to drop you off!”
“You don’t understand me! I wish you would leave me alone” shouts Summayah as she storms past her mother. The sound of the school bus leaving is heard from outside. Sawdah sighs, now not only will she be late for her doctor’s appointment but she will have to share a car journey with a bad tempered teenager. What has happened between her and Sumayyah? They use to get along so well, now it’s constant fighting between the two of them.
Is this the stuff of your nightmares? Or is this the nightmare that has become your reality? Don’t worry all is not lost! There is plenty that you and Sawdah can do to avoid these situations reoccurring in the future. So let’s discuss the steps that we can take to effectively improve the communication between us and our teenagers.
As we discussed previously the first step to befriending our teenage children was developing an understanding of them. Understanding them paves the way to the second step of developing effective communication with them. Understanding that their perspective on the world is completely different to yours is vital for effective communication. Your perspective on the world is built on your many years of experience, whilst they have yet to have the experiences they need to mature and fully think like a mature adult.
When we approach a conversation with our teenagers we need to empathise with them. So if we go back to the example of Sawdah we can see this is something she failed to do. She was too focused on her own issue of being late for her appointment to realise there may have been a reason for Summayah not wanting to come out of the bathroom. So take a moment and step into your teen’s world which is very different to yours and try and see their concerns from their perspective.
Controlling your emotions
Always keep your emotions out of your interactions. I know, I know it’s harder than it sounds, BUT it is possible. It goes back to tazkiyah and what every Muslim should be aspiring to achieve in all parts of their lives: controlling our nafs, training our souls so we reach the level of ihsaan in all aspects of our lives. So when your teenager does what in your eyes is outrageous behaviour take a deep breath and put your emotions to one side before you approach the situation. If during the interaction you feel yourself losing your temper or you sense your child is becoming emotional, then take ‘time out’ for both of you to calm down and then approach the subject again in a calm manner. Controlling your emotions will enable you to have effective communication between the both of you and will have the added benefit of aiding your spiritual development.
Collaborating a situation together
Remember your teen is making the transition from childhood to adulthood now. They are no longer the child whose actions you have full control over or who depends on you for their decisions. In this time of their life you have to hand over some of the control that you have over their world and let him or her choose how to solve his/ her struggles. This doesn’t mean we give over the reins completely but we collaborate with them to come to a solution together. So what is the best approach to help them achieve a solution on their own with a little guidance from you?
First of all it is always important to convey that you have confidence in your teen’s ability to work his issues out and that his problems are under his control now. So if we go back to the example of Sawdah instead of the confrontational ‘What are you doing in there?’ a more effective question would have been: ‘Are you ok? Is there anything I can do to help you catch your school bus?’ or with a child struggling with their studies: “Do you have any ideas how we can organise your time so you can keep up with your studies?”. Posing your questions this way provides the opportunity for you both to discuss solutions together and affirms your confidence in your teen. After discussing this with them encourage them to think critically about each possible solution; the consequences, problems with the solutions and the potential for success of the solution.
Recognise the extent of your responsibility
Recognising how your responsibility towards your teen has changed will help you approach your interactions in an effective way. When they were a child it was your responsibility to make the correct decisions for them and to discipline them accordingly if they made an incorrect choice, this has now changed. The pen has dropped on your child’s account; THEY are also accountable for their actions. Your role in their nurturing has changed; you now have the responsibility of advising and giving them correct guidance. They are responsible for their actions and you are responsible for yours. So if an exchange between the both of you becomes heated, it is your responsibility to keep your actions in check and not respond in anger. Let them know you will only speak to them in a civil manner. Always ask yourself ‘How does Allah want me to behave in this situation? What do I need to do in this situation to gain Allah’s pleasure?’ Once we have acquired this sincerity we will no longer convey to our children that we are in desperate need for them to act in a certain way. Our interactions will no longer be a battle of trying to force them to change or improve. Allah is the changer of hearts. We do our best to advise and then leave it to Him. When our teenager no longer has us to fight he may concentrate on the opponent he needs to wrestle with; himself.
I’m going to take you back to Upturn street now and this time we are going to visit the Choudhurys at number 67. They woke up to exactly the same situation as the Ahmeds but this time it was their daughter Fatima who was held up in the bathroom with her mum Maryam slowly getting agitated outside. Maryam checks her watch anxiously, takes a deep breath and makes a silent dua before approaching the bathroom door. She knocks on the door gently and asks,
‘Fatima, is everything OK in there?’
Fatima grunts a ‘Yes’ in reply. Maryam checks her watch again and takes another deep breath to calm herself down.
‘Are you sure? Is there anything I can do to help you catch your bus on time?’ Maryam persists gently.
After a long silence, Maryam says
‘Well, I’ll be downstairs dear if you decide you want my help’ and starts to walk away but pauses when the bathroom door slowly creaks open to reveal a forlorn looking Fatima.
‘Mum, I can’t go to school with huge thing on my nose!’ Fatima cries, pointing to a smallish pimple on her nose.
‘Maybe you could think of ways to cover it?’ Maryam replies reassuringly. They start to discuss.
Five minutes later, a happier looking Fatima kisses her mother before boarding her bus with her pimple now hidden from view, courtesy of her mum’s make up skills and a dab of concealer.
Maryam has shown that when we use the tools of effective communication by empathising with our teen, giving them the control to choose to take our help, keeping our emotions under check and keeping our issues out of the conversation we can help our teenager find solutions to his problems. This will allow our teenager to acquire respect for us and we will be well on our way on the road to befriending our teenagers.
Alkauthar Institute Weekend Course – ‘Parenting Matters, The art of raising Righteous Children’. Taught by Sheikh Alaa Elsayed.