“Can I go for a party tonight?” asked 17-year-old Tarun.

“Where is the party? How long will you be out? Who’s coming with you?” shot back Madhu.

“MOM! Stop asking so many questions. You, like, just don’t trust me!”

“Trust. A difficult word in today’s day” thought Madhu, her eyes riveting to the newspaper in her hand. The daily tabloid had featured one more article on the recent rave party in Mumbai.

“So many kids were caught there, Tarun. All taking drugs. I don’t want that to happen to you!”

“There you go again. Just don’t believe your own son.”

Whatever you put it down to – stress, media exposure or the internet – parents and kids are today talking two different languages. The generation gap has become wider by far. The result of this is parents have much less control over their children’s lives.

Unfortunately most parents mistake communication to mean ‘telling their kids what to do’ or questioning their kids all the time. But good Communication starts with relationship building. A parent-child relationship is like a bank account and needs constant deposits of listening, trust and an honest attitude. Withdrawing from that account by raising suspicions, screaming, being sarcastic without putting in any deposits doesn’t work in the long run.

Here are 5 strategies to start communicating better with your child.

  1. Build the bridge: How does your teen respond to you? Does he/she hide stuff from you? When you are talking, do they rudely leave the room? Do they refuse to talk to you for days after a fight? All of these are signs of poor communication patterns set from childhood.  Fortunately, nature has provided a natural bond between parents and children which can be forged at any point. Start now. Respect your child. Let them have privacy. Leave them to explore their interests and career choices without pressure. And allow them to state their opinions.
  2. LISTEN! Most parents talk 50% more than they should. No wonder the usual complaint is“My child just won’t’ listen to me!” when actually they are never given a chance to talk! Parents get taken aback at how open their kids can be with simple empathic statements such as “How do you feel?” or “What’s troubling you”
  3. No lecturing: In the teen years, avoiding family is the norm. Friends are much more important. Parents have to steel themselves against this, be patient and yet let their child know good from bad in as diplomatic a way as possible.Teens and pre-teens need information on issues like AIDS and abortion but don't lecture while doing this. Have a conversation instead.4
  4. Be comfortable with sensitive issues: Why would a teen experiment with drugs? What makes the 16-year-old give into her boyfriend’s demand for sex without protection? Curiosity of course.  Parents who are early birds in informing their children on issues such as sexuality,bodily changes of adolescence, attraction to the opposite sex and drugs,usually have stable and secure kids.
  5. Balanced parenting: At no time does parenting get tested more than when the child is between the ages of 12 and 18. Here a parent has to draw a fine line between freedom and authority. Freedom in limits is acceptable, such as if the teen wants to withdraw into a room with a shut door, or stay overnight at a close friend’s place.  But authority needs to come in on issues such as keeping tabs on friends, questioning on whereabouts and insisting on keeping cell-phones always on.

Improving the lines of communication between parent and teen goes beyond buying them the latest cellphone and laptop. It is straightforward and honest talking which actually does the trick. Although deceptively simple in theory, communication is tough to practice. Yet, it could make the difference between a child on drugs and one who passes each exam with flying colours!