Connecting Through Communication

Back to school… This time of year is a relief for some and a dread for others.  I never put a feeling to it before I dropped my oldest at college, and now it comes with all sorts of emotions.  As I think about school, I am thinking about all that our kids, however old they are, experience.  And all that the parents experience too!

Actually, as I was doing my social media video on sending kids off to college, I had to do several takes, as this topic really rings close to home for me.  Check it out in TikTok or Instagram when you have a second.

There is a lot of trust that goes into the whole school experience.  We trust that everything is status-quo until it isn’t.  How do you know when things are off or not right?  Do you reflect on conversations and what is going on?  Do you ask questions? It is hard sending our kids off to school when we don’t even have a sense of security about their safety.  It was hard before and it is harder now.

When Northwestern was in the news last month, the continued reporting cites examples of hazing for over 100 years.  With the current hazing allegations, one article, reminded me of how important it is to communicate with clarity.  The discussion about a survey of students included a point that really stuck out, one I know to be true from my own experiences and anecdotal listening:  “More than half of all students polled who belonged to clubs, teams, or organizations said they experienced behaviors that would meet the definition of hazing; yet at the end of the survey, when the students were asked if they had ever been hazed, only 1 in 10 responded affirmatively.”  They said these behaviors often begin in high school.   

So how do we start to talk with our kids?  They don’t put down their phones (do you?). If you are stuck about how to talk to them, or how to have conversations that are reciprocal, let’s talk about strategies that work.  

One of the ways we can talk to them is by listening to them.  “How was your day?” Or, “Did you have a good day?” will only get us a one or two-word response.  So how do we start a conversation that leads to the conversation?  How, when, and where can be pre-meditated or you can be empowered to take advantage of a spontaneous opportunity.  Remember, they are like us and need to feel that the agenda is safe and calm in order to trust themselves and relax.  Please be sensitive to the value of humor and a conversational tone:  These are priceless tools! 

For example, if talking about hazing, once the dialogue begins, it’ll be easier to say, “Look, it can’t be easy for you to feel safe in this world, let alone feel the pros outweigh the cons to speak up.  But we’re doing our best to keep you safe and want to help you feel in control and good about what is going on.  That’s why we want your thoughts on hazing; what do you even think it is?   Are you open to hearing about what we know about it?”

Not every question-or answer-will be as effective as an ongoing conversation here and there. So, we can demonstrate the value of actually talking together by keeping electronics completely out of reach during these times.

You might now be thinking that you TRY to talk to them, but how in the world is it possible to have quality conversations when they are “always on their phones”?   It seems more than ever they are relying on Snapchat for validation and self-esteem which is leading to even more insecurity  (google Luddites if you have not heard this term before.  Can flip-phones make a comeback?) and what feels like an unbreakable cycle.  Furthermore, I can’t tell you how often I hear a teen, or even a younger adult, tell me about something that is inaccurate about mental health based on what they saw on social media (this article discusses more of this here).  Fortunately, they are telling me in a setting where they are open to hearing clarifications, but what is your communication like yourself?  The more kids feel alienated, and if the more parents are helpless to this alienation are we then passively promoting dangerous subcultures (hazing… gangs…).  So now what?

And remember…Our kids don’t have to be happy all the time- we sure aren’t!- so can you tolerate their distress and be there successfully when they are struggling?  And talk about trust…We are born and bred with insecurity.  From teens to adults to older adults, the word security comes up weekly if not more.  This NY Times article even says “you cannot afford to rest” or you will lose out, lose things, and be not-secure.  What if we instead, don’t look at insecurity as so negative.  “Rather than something to pathologize, I want us to see insecurity as an opportunity. We all need protection from life’s hazards, natural or human-made. The simple acceptance of our mutual vulnerability — of the fact that we all need and deserve care throughout our lives — has potentially transformative implications.”  If we acknowledge we are insecure with our relationships and with our experiences, can we reframe them as opportunities?

Communication: How to have quality conversations, how to dialog in a healthy way, and how to leave conversations feeling like they mattered.  This is what we specialize in and can help you build on what you already do right.   I have a cheat sheet on my website to get you started.  You too can communicate the way therapists do- I am confident you can build on these skills, and we can help you do that too.  Remember, people want empathy and understanding… and quite typically not solutions.  There is a difference between responding and reacting.  They need consistent and loving relationships and that is what you represent.

Ask us how these skills are adapted when you are communicating with your partner, your friends and your own parents!


Take care of yourself this Fall.



Lynn Zakeri

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