HOW TO GET TEENS TALKING: Communicating with your Teenager Part 1
It is a well known fact that communication between teenagers and parents can be difficult. Yet adolescence is a stage of life where an open dialogue can be more useful than ever, as teens begin to make decisions independent from you, and as you begin to let them. Applying a few small parenting strategies can make a big difference in the outcome.
So how do you get your adolescent to open up?
First, redefine what “open up” or “communicate” means when it comes to teenagers (and some “tweens” for that matter). Simply stating, “We need to talk” or the word “discuss”, may send them running for their ear buds. Expecting to have paragraphs of dialogue may leave you sorely disappointed.
One way to get your teenager to talk, is to not expect them to talk. Don’t start with questions and don’t go into the scenario expecting anything back from them. You talk. But not about them or what they should be doing or who they should be friends with. Rather than the same old question, “How was school?“, begin by telling them something about your day.
“Hi hon. How are you? You won’t believe what happened to me today. I was pulling out of the parking lot and….”
Keep it short and to the point, in a “just letting you know” tone. At the end, don’t ask questions and don’t expect a response. Move on with what you were doing. Often teens just walk away. If you’re lucky you might get a grunt (or they may respond depending on the week or the day or the hour!).
Sometimes they ask, “Why are you telling me this?!?”, in their most awful, dismissive tone. They are suspicious of an ulterior motive or agenda. After all, they often have one. Remember, they aren’t too trusting of adults right now (partly because they feel unheard and misunderstood and partly because they aren’t too trusting of themselves right now).
You reply, “I just thought it was interesting” (or whatever “it“ was) and WALK AWAY (or continue with what you were doing) or let them walk away. Now is not the time to ask, “How was school?”.
Wash, rinse, repeat until it becomes second nature. Communicating without expectations builds trust. Increased positive communication increases intimacy as well. You are shifting to using “I” statements rather than “You” statements – shifting the focus and creating an open dialogue vs. shutting it down. I’ve seen the toughest teens come around and begin to tell their parents about their day in less than a month. Give it a try!
Next time I’ll give you ideas on engaging your teen in conversations they initiate.