Two people in a disagreement

Communication Breakdown

In the fall of 1968, a group of up-and-coming English musicians were out on tour and getting ready for the next big step of their music careers – releasing their debut album. It was during this time they wrote and produced a song that was set to be released as a B-side to their first single. The song was a short 2 minutes and 26 seconds long built around an infectious guitar riff by their young, but talented guitarist.

Communication breakdown
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!

The song was “Communication Breakdown,” and the band was Led Zeppelin.

This song would go on to be one of this band’s biggest hits and one of the most requested songs they would play in concert.  It set Led Zeppelin off on a pace that would lead them to become one of the biggest bands in the world and often thought to be one of the greatest musical groups of all time.

On the surface, the song seems like a simple tale of a guy who likes a girl but is struggling with finding the right words to express his feelings. While a classic rock song from over 50 years ago might not seem like an obvious source for modern day wisdom when it comes to emotional wellbeing, but surprisingly the chorus actually rings true today as it did back then.  A breakdown in communication is frustrating regardless of the time, place or reason.

When talking with teens about ways to effectively communicate, they typically point to their parents and authority figures, such as teachers, as their biggest source of frustration when experiencing a communication breakdown. I recently asked a room full of high school Freshmen to raise their hand if they typically expected a conversation with their parents to go poorly before the first word was ever spoken and every single hand in the room went up! The most common reason for this expectation was all the past experiences they were drawing from when looking at how all subsequent conversations were likely to go.


It’s Always the Same


As adolescence has shown time and time again, maturing into adulthood is a difficult transition. They are dealing with new changes as to who they are as a person, perhaps changes to their environment like going to a new school, new changes to their body, and it seems like everyone around them is changing at a different pace. It’s a lot to keep up with and certainly not the easiest time to figure anything out.  It has been said the only constant in life is change, but the years between adolescence and adulthood seem to be happening at a breakneck pace and keeping up with everything is nothing less than frustrating at times.

It’s often forgotten that this period of ongoing changes is also hard for parents and the adults in their life. While children grow up to become independent and adapt to learn their place in the world, their parents who are responsible for taking care of them are also learning how to give up some of their control over their children. In addition to learning how to raise “adults-in-training,” parents have new sets of concerns to cope with in addition to their own life struggles.


Havin’ a Nervous Breakdown, Drive Me Insane!


So, what happens when you bring two sets of people dealing with continuous changes and try to get them to communicate? Typically, you can expect to get two very different viewpoints and not a lot of work from either side trying to find middle ground.  This would help to explain why conversations between teens and parents are already starting from a difficult place.

When this breakdown in communication first starts, it may initially come across like an occasional disagreement or “agree-to-disagree” dynamic that will likely cease over time.  What happens over time is continued difficulties to see eye-to-eye results in both sides anticipating what the outcome will be and entering into any conversation expecting it to go poorly.  Clearly, something needs to change to break this cycle!


I Want You to Love Me/I Want You to Love


As the song “Communication Breakdown” comes to an end, vocalist Robert Plant is heard singing between the chorus the repeated phrase “I want you to love me, I want you to love.” I think this is an amazing remedy to several of the difficulties that come from having an ongoing conflict between teens and parents. It’s important to enter into a conversation from a place of love and understanding that both sides want what’s best for each other and want to co-exist without the need for unnecessary conflict.

Opening a dialogue with positivity might be a crucial component lacking from ongoing teen and parent conversations. A simple “How was your day?” or “How are you doing?” before jumping straight into a conversation concerning how a difficult class is going or if a certain household task has been accomplished can do a lot for helping the talk to go more smoothly.

Choosing the right words is also crucial when it comes to finding common ground.  Using “you” statements that point a finger or blame towards the other person should be avoided (i.e. “You never listen to me” or “You always say no to me”).  Instead try to implement the use of “I” statements that allow you to take more ownership of your feelings, such as saying “I would appreciate it if you would take time to consider my side of things” or “I feel like you don’t hear me out before saying yes or no what I’m asking.” This allows less blame and more space to seek understanding for how you feel regarding the things you are trying to discuss.

Understand that every conversation, no matter how well meaning, isn’t always going to go as planned. When conversations deteriorate into yelling, fighting, or generally negative areas, remember to be present enough to know when it may be best to end the discussion for the time being. This isn’t to say that when two sides disagree it’s best to call it quits, but rather look at the situation and realize it may be best to take a time out until cooler heads are present.


I Want to Tell You That I Love You So/I Want to Hold You in My Arms


As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words so when disagreements occur, never forget that a hug or small kindness can help make most things right. Such actions show that while disagreements will happen, the love between parents and teens is unconditional.

Next time you find yourself having trouble getting through a communication breakdown, take the initiative to use effective communication tools. Or when all else fails, spend 2 minutes and 26 seconds listening to Zeppelin until you’re ready to try talking again.