Opening Conversations with your Teen
Experts say that it’s vitally important to keep communication lines open with our teenagers. But anyone who has a teenager in their house, knows that is not an easy task. Talking to a teen can be filled with one-word responses and plenty of eye-rolling. So, how is a parent supposed to get their teen talking? Here are a few tips:
Make time. Understand that teens open up when they feel comfortable, not necessarily at convenient times. You cannot schedule your child like a meeting. Many times, teens will bring up something that is bothering them spontaneously on a car ride or while cooking dinner. Do not dismiss those opportunities because you are too busy. If they feel brushed off, they may not open up again. Teens are also more likely to chat when they are doing an activity they love, so get interested in what interests them. If you join them in their activities, you might find them more talkative. The warmest and most rewarding conversations develop when your teen wants to talk and you make time for them.
Get to know them. Parents often want to talk to their teens about school or their peers or possible trouble they need to avoid, but many times, teens feel like we are invading their privacy or being pushy. You might find a more willing conversation partner, if you talk about more general ideas or current events. You will learn a lot about them by hearing their opinions and it gives you the opportunity to share your values without a lecture focused at them. If you take the time to listen when they are talking about more generic topics, they will be more likely to open up to you about real issues affecting their lives. So, when you’re driving in the car or sitting around the dinner table, try throwing out a couple of conversation starter questions:
- What do you think about (insert latest story from the news)?
- If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
- Is there ever a time that it would be OK to (insert a negative activity, such as cheat, lie or steal)?
- What are some things that you don’t need, but you’re really happy that you have?
- What is your favorite family tradition?
- If you could make three family rules, what would they be?
- Have you seen anyone at school stick up for a kid being teased?
- What feeling do you think is most uncomfortable? Embarrassment, anger, fear, or something else?
- What are some things you can do to make a difference in the world?
- If your friend always forgets to bring his lunch to school, should other kids always share with him or her?
- How do you make yourself face your fears?
- Where would you like to live some day? Why?
- What should we do more of as a family?
- What are some things that I didn’t have as a kid that you’re happy you get to have?
- What is one thing you want to achieve before you finish school?
Be open-minded. The fastest way to get a teen to clam up is to express disapproval, judgment, or shock. Because adolescents are developing independence, they often “try on” different identities. As a result, your teen is likely to throw you a curve ball during your conversations, perhaps stating something against your values or just for shock value. Don’t jump to argue or defend the things that might be a little tough to hear. Your teen will likely have a new opinion in a couple of weeks. It’s better to simply ask some follow up questions about what inspired your teen’s way of thinking. Teens also tend to have big ideas that are completely unrealistic. However, putting down their idea can make your teen withdraw. Instead, respond with curiosity. You don’t have to say you think it’s a great idea, but you could ask them why they like the idea, or how they plan to accomplish it. Asking lots of open-ended questions shows interest in your teen and also helps them come to a better decision on their own.
Show interest. Listen more than you talk. Listening is the key to building and maintaining a healthy, open relationship with your teen. Give your teen respect and your complete attention when you are having a conversation. Ask questions to show that you are listening and to make sure you understand their opinion or the whole story.
Opening lines of communication takes time and patience, so go slow and don’t let setbacks derail your efforts. You will see slow changes over time. If you’re not seeing any progress, start by taking a good look at how you act and react when talking with your teen. If a teen’s communication is deteriorating fast, talk with a professional and get some help.