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Author and Coach Steve Beckles-Ebusua tackles the tough issue of communicating effectively with young people and how to get it right.

ImageIf you need a more effective vocabulary to communicate with your teenagers, Steve Beckles-Ebusua offers some invaluable tips on understanding and getting the best from young people


When I worked in a secondary school, I found that parents would bombard me with ‘Why?’ questions. Here were the most common:

  • Why is my teenager so irresponsible?
  • Why is my teenager hanging about with the wrong crowd?
  • Why is my teenager so lazy?
  • Why is it so difficult to talk to my teenager?
  • Why is my teenager so argumentative?

Do these sound familiar? I have found the ‘Why?’ question often generates a negative or ‘cul-de-sac’ answer. What I mean by this is that when you ask your mind ‘Why?’ it gives you an answer that has been pre-programmed in your subconscious (you’ll learn more about this later) with no way of improving that situation or with anywhere to go, like a ‘cul-de-sac’.

If you say to yourself “Why is my teenager so irresponsible?” the answer your brain cells will generate will be a potentially negative answer. It might be, “Because they can’t be bothered and they want me to clear up behind them.”  

But the question ‘How?’ provokes the brain cells to create a potentially positive answer to the question posed. In the above example, if you were to change the question to: “How can I make my teenager more responsible?” you are now thinking of ways to improve the situation rather than condemning it with the ‘Why?’ question.

The Power of ‘How?’

The power of the ‘How?’ question is amazing; it can give a completely different complexion to a situation. But it’s not just adults who are guilty of using the ‘Why?’ word and getting a negative response.

I remember being in a shop and seeing a teenager with her mum. The teenager asked for a magazine on the shelf. The mum replied “No”, and the teenager then asked “Why?”. Mum then said, “Because I said so”. The question ‘Why?’ triggered a self-defence response in mum’s brain as if to say ‘how dare she question me?’, and invariably the response never really answered the question asked by the teenager.

So, let’s transpose those why questions you previously read with ‘How?’ questions:

  • How can I make my teenager more responsible?
  • How can I stop my teenager mixing with the wrong crowd?
  • How can I motivate my teenager?
  • How can I communicate more effectively with my teenager?
  • How can I avoid being annoyed with my teenager?

You will also notice that the ‘How?’ questions feel more positive than the ‘Why?’ questions. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said: “If you keep doing what you keep doing you’re going to keep getting what you keep getting.”

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Solutions for Parents

While delivering my programmes in schools and colleges, I discussed with teenagers their opinions and beliefs about their parents and they were very keen to tell me what ‘winds them up’. So, I thought I’d share their feedback with you. I accept that it’s only the opinions of a particular number of teenagers and not from across the country, but I feel it gives a very interesting insight of the thoughts of these teenagers.

Seven things that teenagers hate about their parents and solutions for parents:

  1. Stop going on and on about the same thing.
  2. Many of the young people I spoke to commented that if they are in trouble or are being warned not to do something, when you go on about it, they feel like doing it because they know how much it will annoy you. They said they prefer short sharp telling-offs as they would always have an impact.

  3. Talk to, not at, us.
  4. Many teenagers explained that they do want to have conversations with their parents. The problem the teenagers found was that conversations always have ulterior motives, leading to homework, behaviour or other topics the parent really wanted to talk about. So, talk for interest’s sake and not to preach.

  5. Show us respect.
  6. This is a big one with the teenagers I spoke to. Being told off by their parents in front of their friends was a big issue for them. They said that many parents demand respect whereas, the teenagers felt, it’s about commanding respect by what they do - so their saying ‘Do as I say; not as I do’, doesn’t wash!

  7. Keep saying “I love you.” But not only when it’s convenient to you.
  8. This one surprised me, but the teenagers said they do like to hear these words. Not necessarily when they have done something good, but at any time and any place - but not in front of their friends!

  9. Give us responsibility; let us mess up.
  10. The teenagers explained that they want the right to mess up. They understand you’re looking out for them, but give them the freedom to mess up a little.

  11. Praise us for the small things.
  12. They said they never seemed to get genuine praise; they said it was the small things they preferred the praise for rather than the big things. This surprised me at first, but they explained there are often far more small things to praise than big things, and because when the big things come around, they often feel a reluctance to help because of all the neglected small moments of praise.

  13. Support activities that we enjoy; not those that you enjoy.

Many teenagers said that they want to be supported in the activities that they enjoyed, not those their parents enjoyed or wanted them to do. One teenager explained to me he didn’t mind doing the sport his dad loved but after a while it became something the teenager grew to dislike as the dad would constantly criticise.

So, action is the key, I recommend that you read over the above and put the advice into practice and I believe it will work. Thank you for coming on my journey; have a positive day.

Albert Einstein once said: “Nothing ever happens until something moves.”

This simple statement says it all, so go now and make something happen in Understanding Your Teenager!

Steve is a motivational speaker, trainer, coach and author on conquering lifelong self-defeating habits that hold us back from reaching our full potential. Extracts are taken from his book: ’Because I Said So!!!!.....Understanding Your Teenager’ by Steve Beckles-Ebusua  www.thechangemaker.co.uk
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