Communication is about perception. Oftentimes, though parents try to communicate with their teenagers, the teens do not believe that their parents are communicating with them at all. In fact, many times in our HomeWord family seminars, I ask parents and their kids if they believe they are communicating. Almost invariably, the parents say yes and the kids say no.
Most of us didn’t grow up with very good role models for communication, and if we don’t learn helpful tools, we will pass on poor communication skills to our children. Likely no one would disagree that healthy communication takes focus, discipline and hard work. It involves at least two elements: content and relationship. The previous generation may be guilty of focusing more on the content of communication than on the relationship. However, when communication fails, as I mentioned, usually the problem is not the content; it is usually the relationship.
Do you remember the father in one of the most famous musicals ever made into a movie, The Sound of Music? Captain Von Trapp loves his children, but when he arrives home from his busy travels, he runs the house like the military. His communication style is “captain to private.” He has control for the moment. He gets his children’s obedience, but Maria, the nanny who later becomes his wife, passionately begs Von Trapp to prioritize relationship over content. His relationship with his children changes and he evolves into a loving parent; it makes all the difference in the world.
Parents like Von Trapp, who practice the captain-to-private type of communication, are employing shame-based parenting. Shame-based parenting brings rules without relationship, which causes rebellion. In healthy communication between parent and child, by contrast, there is positive give-and-take. The child knows who is boss, but the relationship is based on affection, warmth and encouragement.
What’s difficult about communication is that if our parents used shame-based parenting, we will lean in the same direction. If our parents tried the high-volume solution, we will find ourselves doing the same when we are desperate. If sarcasm was a part of our family growing up, then odds are that we will need to work harder not to use this communication-killer with our spouse and children. There are several other communication-killers, which include verbal overkill, classic put-downs, argument shift, silent treatment and “the preacher.” I actually think I have tried all of these at one time or another and discovered that they just don’t work in the long run.