Unilateral Disarmament - The First Step to Improving Communications with Your Teenagers
by: V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed.
Many times, we are so conditioned in how we speak that we do not realize whether or not we are effectively
communicating with our teens. This is especially true when they upset us.
To ensure that you are fostering an environment that will encourage your teenager to talk to you, as opposed
to fearing you, the first step is to evaluate your communication style. How you express yourself and what you say to your
teens, especially when you are angry, can inhibit your relationship with them. Reacting by shouting short sarcastic phrases
will usually turn off most people, including our teenagers.
The following are twelve examples of statements and questions that you should avoid saying:
1. When I was your age
2. What part of the word "NO" don't you understand
3. Because I said so
4. Who pays the mortgage around here?
5. You're NOT going out dressed like that
6. What do you see in him, you can do better
7. You kids have it so easy today
8. I didn't say that
9. You live under my roof, you live by my rules
10. Are you PMSing?
11. When are you going to grow up?
12. This conversation is over
Think through the things that you say that are similar to the above, and create a list. Then, meet with your
teen and ask her for her input. Explain that you are doing this because you love her and want her to trust you and to not
fear coming to you to discuss things that are important to her. Go over the list and then ask your teen to add any statements
that you may have missed. For example, you can say, "Tell me the things that I say to you that you feel are hurtful; or prevent
you from wanting to talk to me about important issues." Add them to the list and make a mental note of them. Then, ask your
teen to tell you when you react to her behavior and use any of those phrases. Stress that improved communications is a "two
way street" and you are going to do your part to make things better. Then add that you also expect her to do her part, as
it will take both your efforts to improve communications.
What to do
Remember to have a "thick skin" and thank her for her feedback when she provides it – even if you are
angry. The best way to change this reactionary behavior is to try and think before you react, and talk more constructively
to your teenager. Think of how you would have to react at work if a subordinate or coworker did something to upset you. As
angry as you might be, you would strive to act professional because your job depended on it. If you do react and your daughter
brings it to your attention, thank her and then discuss the issue more constructively because your relationship depends on
You also need to set guidelines with your teen, instead of making rigid rules that will alienate her and create
a vicious cycle of poor communicating and hard feelings.
Unilateral disarmament is the first step in demonstrating to your teen that you are serious about improving
communications with her. When you lead by example, you are establishing the foundation and setting your expectations. This
works better that a "do as I say, not as I do!" reactionary approach which causes your teen to be more rebellious.
About The Author
V. Michael Santoro
This article is an excerpt from the book "Realizing the Power of Love," How a father and teenage daughter became best friends...and
how you can too! By V. Michael Santoro, M. Ed and Jennifer S. Santoro. For more information visit their Web site at http://www.dads-daughters.com/.