Getting Your Teen to Talk
Does it seem like your teen has plenty to say to their friends, but nothing to say to you? It can be so frustrating to see your child share more openly with their peers and clam up when they are with you. Although this is common in adolescence, there are things that you can do to get your teens to talk to you:
Ask Open-Ended Questions
If you are only getting one-word responses to your questions from your teen, then you are asking the wrong questions. Probably the most important thing that parents can do to get their child to open up to them more is to ask open-ended questions (the type of questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer). So, instead of asking “How was your day?” which always results in a quick “fine,” try saying, “Tell me about your day.”
Here are some of the best open-ended questions you can ask your son or daughter:
- Tell me about… This statement is great because it requires your teen to answer in several sentences, and it leaves the topic wide open for your teen’s own interpretation. In any given situation, you will hear what mattered most to your teen because they will choose to tell you their perspective on the subject.
- What do you think about…? Ask for your teen’s opinion about current events, books, movies, or anything else that comes up. Not only will you learn more about your teen’s opinions, this question also encourages your child to develop critical thinking.
- What did you notice…? You will learn a lot about your teen by discovering what catches their attention, so ask for your teen’s observations. Ask questions like, “Did you notice anything interesting at soccer tonight?”
- What would you do differently…? This question can be used to discuss a controversial subject – perhaps a hypothetical situation or something you heard about on the news that could spark a discussion on values – or it can be used to discuss a situation where your teen made a mistake, which is usually a more effective way of helping them learn a lesson than lecturing them. Either way, it is a question that encourages your teen to reflect.
- What concerns you about…? Use this question when you can tell your teen is stressed about something or they are about to experience some sort of change. This is a great question to get to the root of fears they may have but aren’t verbalizing.
Keeping the Conversation Going
Even the best open-ended question will not result in good communication if your teen feels like they are being interrogated, criticized, or misunderstood. Your teen needs to feel that it’s safe to talk to you. If you want your teen to open up, then try following these tips:
- Listen more, talk less. People like to share more when they feel heard. If you are frequently lecturing your teen, then your teen will withdraw. Experts recommend that parents say 50% less than they normally do. Remember when you were a teen, and you felt like your parents kept hammering their point over and over?
- Avoid judgment. More than likely, your teen will say something you don’t like. Take time to listen to what they’re saying, and seek to understand them by asking follow up questions. It can be hard to refrain from expressing your opinion, but you will improve your communication with your teen if you instead reflect back what you heard them say. Your teen needs to feel like you understood them, so when you restate what they said to you in your own words, it keeps your teen talking. Demonstrate genuine curiosity about your teen’s ideas. Validate their feelings. Respect their point of view. It is possible to disagree with your teen without putting down their opinion.
- Avoid accusations. All of us withdraw from conversations when we feel like someone is accusing us of something. Do not put your teen on the defensive and they will be more likely to continue talking with you.
- Seize the moment. Do not try to schedule your teen’s conversation for a convenient time. Your best discussions will happen when your teen brings something up. It may have been difficult for your teen to find the courage to talk to you about something bothering them – turning them away makes them less likely to come back again. It’s worth the inconvenience to take advantage of a time when your teen is willingly opening up.
- Find common ground. Conversations naturally develop from shared interests. You can find something you are both interested in, or take the time to learn about your teen’s interests so that you can share some fun discussions.
Alternate Way to Open Communication
Sometimes, face-to-face communication can be too intense for teens. Being bombarded with questions over dinner, or confronted with uncomfortable lectures about drugs or dating can cause teens to withdraw. An alternative is to give your teen a journal or notebook, tell them that they can write down any questions or concerns they have, and then, give it to you. A journal provides your teen with time to think about what they want to say, without feeling like they’re on the spot, and avoid looking in your eyes, if they need to talk about something embarrassing. Additionally, it gives parents time to think about their response. When your teen gives you the journal, try to write your response within 24 hours.
If getting your teen to communicate with you is an issue, you might want to also review our previous blogs: 8 Communication Mistakes that Parents Make and Effectively Communicating with Teens. Opening lines of communication takes time and patience, so go slow and don’t let setbacks derail your efforts.