Ways to Improve Communication with Teens
It’s a tale as old as time: Your baby won’t stop chatting and loves to tell you how much they love you. Then, your baby grows into a teenager and suddenly refuses to talk. What is it about puberty that seems to throw a wrench in every parent-teen relationship? How did communicating with your child get to be so difficult? This sudden drop in communication can be heartbreaking and disappointing, however, there are ways to help increase communication between parents and teens and bring your relationship back into balance.
TALK MORE Not surprisingly, the conversation starts with talking. Pediatrician Dr. Lisa Stern shares from a recent study that teens with parents who talked to them about sensitive topics when they were young end up being the sort of teen who comes back to their parent to talk more readily. Established routes of communication should begin early and maintained.
“Being open with your child as they’re growing up and discussing topics that may be a little bit taboo or a lit bit uncomfortable for you will encourage and model sort of open communication for later on when they’re teenagers,” says Dr. Stern.
Dr. Stern is describing early and open communication as a shield for the awkward, tense moments that the teenage years are bound to bring.
“Sometimes there are issues that you don’t know how to bring up with your teen but you want to discuss them and sometimes there are television shows or movies that touch on those subjects and can be conversation starters,” says Dr. Stern.
In between questions about little league and reminders to use their napkin, try asking your child a question you might ask another adult at a dinner party—not too risqué, of course, but curious and, with any luck, thought-provoking. Their answers will always surprise you. As they grow older and form their own opinions, you may find you disagree with your child about some of the tricky topics. That’s ok, too.
DON'T TALK SOMETIMES
If there is anything the typical American teen hates, it’s a lecture. Any statement of yours that takes longer than ten seconds is likely wasted on the teen ear. You’ve lost their attention. More importantly, what your communication with your teen is likely missing the most is your teen’s voice.
When dealing with teenagers, Malina Saval, journalist and author of Secret Life of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens, has found that the best way to communicate with them is to allow them to teach you something that you might not know about them and steer clear of discussing your own feelings. Say to your child, “Teach me some things about yourself.” No matter their response, you’ll be learning something about your child and moving your relationship in the right direction.
“When you put down the Blackberry, when you turn away from your computer, when you stop doing what you're doing and really listen to your child, it's going to encourage him or her to want to talk to you even more,” says Betsy Brown Braun, parent educator and author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents.
To successfully connect to your child, try finding things they can’t stop talking about, or something that’s a passion. It’s an added bonus if you and your teen share the same common interests, such as horseback riding, a movie or a sports team.
“What I want for us all to do is find ways of staying connected while we're being disconnected,” says JoAnn Deak, psychologist and author of How Girls Thrive.
BE STRATEGIC Our third piece of advice is already in most parent’s repertoire—be strategic. Sometimes a parent needs time and location on their side.
According to Michael Riera, Head of School at Brentwood School, there are two times scenarios in which teenagers are more willing to talk. The first is driving in a car as you are looking out the front windshield. Don’t expect a long conversation, but they will let out little by little.
“Our job is really to listen – it’s not to give advice, it’s to really listen to them,” says Riera. The second favorable time to talk to a teen is late at night when they are falling asleep.
“This is when they’re tired, their defenses are down – they will start to talk,” advises Riera.
Talking about the issues they’re going through can be an intense experience for teens. If riding in a car and staring out the window or talking while falling sleep watching TV can help your teenager open up, why not? Make the conversation as comfortable for your teen as possible.
TALKING ABOUT TALKING When it comes to opening up communication with your teen, there’s really only one thing you need to do—talk. Talk a lot early on. As them to talk about what they’re interested in. Talk about the tricky stuff. Talk when they’re comfortable. Like any other skill, you and your teen will find that it gets easier the more you do it.