I am sure that many of you could complete that sentence, hearing you parents or elderly aunt's voice in your head..."It's not what you say dear, but how you say it." When you heard it, it was probably because you had talked to your elders in a tone that was unacceptable.
I am sharing this saying with you not so you can teach it to your teens, but to teach to you. Often as parents, much of the "feedback" that we share with our teens is said either in a voice of authority as in " I know better than you squirt, so listen up," or in a voice full of exasperation as in "how many times do we have to go over this..," or in a voice full of judgement.."how could you have...." In all of these examples, most likely the response you get from your teen is to either ignore you, get defensive, or give you attitude. None of these pave the way for meaningful communication or closure.
As I have mentioned before, the emotional center of the teen brain is in overdrive most of the time, hence the roller-coaster of emotions you are likely to experience with them just in the course of a single day. Once that Amygdala is in activation and firing, it is pretty hard to shut it down. Think of a stove top burner that has been on high. Once you shut it off, it takes a good amount of time before you can touch it without being burned. Such is the Amygdala of the teenage brain. So one of the goals then, is to not get it activated, especially if you have an end goal in mind for a conversation you want to have with your teen.
If you blame your teen's over-reaction on biology, rather than on something they have much control over, it frees you up to not blame them, thereby avoiding the double whammy of the actual issue you are concerned over + the aforementioned over-reaction. That is why arguing with your teen is so frustrating. Because you often never really get to discussing the core issue, too busy getting pissed at them for getting pissed at you.
So what to do. Listen to the sound of your own voice. Would this be THE voice that used to piss you off as a teen? If it is, can you work on saying it another way. Of course my suggestion is to use an "I get it" statement. Rather than starting with a lecture or accusation, think ahead of time of what might have motivated the particular behavior you are now needing to talk about with your teen.
FROM " Get off your damn phone and computer and finish your homework." TO; I get it's important for you to stay in touch with your friends, but we need to figure out a way for you to get work done, and stay in touch with your friends."
FROM: "If you talk to your brother again like that, I am taking away that damn video game. That kind of disrespect is unacceptable in our family." TO; I get how hard and annoying it is to have a younger brother who always wants to hang with you and use your stuff just when you want to use it. I know he pushes all your buttons, let's figure out a way for you to get your privacy."
FROM: "I am sick and tired of the absolute mess in your room, you are a slob and are disrespectful of the money we spend so that you can have all these nice clothes." TO: I get cleaning your room is absolutely the last thing on your mind. I know getting ready in the morning is stressful and finding the right outfit means trying on a bunch of stuff and just discarding what isn't right. We gotta figure out a better system."
At the least, you haven't antagonized your teen to shut down. You are showing him/her that you understand what might be going on, rather than just criticizing them yet again for not doing..x y z. Give it a try, you might be surprised at how well it works!
PS: Getting my speaking schedule up and running for the 2015-16 year. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in having me come and present one of my seminars at your school, company, church, temple, community group or on a street corner in your neighborhood!! Or book an Ask The Expert Party. Invite your friends, or the parents of your teen's friends to your house and I'll spend two hours giving you all tips and strategies, geared specifically to your needs.