Talking to teenagers can feel like talking to someone from another world. Your formerly chatty child suddenly keeps his mouth shut tighter than the security at Fort Knox. Even simple questions like “How was your day at school?” get a reaction that would be more appropriate to an intense interrogation scenario. And when a teen actually does want to talk, she seems to hear things her own way, or speak in ways her parents don’t understand.
Is it just me, or does anyone else think teenagers sign an agreement once they turn 13 to keep everything a secret?
I have a 19-year-old and 15-year-old daughter. Sometimes, I feel like beating my head against the wall in frustration from trying to get them to open up to me. Over time, though, I’ve found a few good pieces of advice on how to encourage teenagers to start sharing. And yes, this even covers some difficult topics like sex, drugs, mental health and their future.
Some tips I’ve read along the way from other parents going through the same thing. Other tidbits I’ve had to learn the hard way on my own. If you’re ready to start laying the foundation to get your teen talking to you, then here are five tips to help you out:
1. Don’t Be A Helicopter Parent
Want to get your kid to close up tighter than a clam? Hover. I can almost guarantee they’ll never open up. Yes, the world is a scary place and no one wants to see their teenager struggle. But not giving your child the space to make his or her own decisions can backfire, Deborah Gilboa, M.D., parenting expert, told Parents Magazine. In fact, over-involvement in our child’s life can cause decreased self-esteem, ineffective coping skills and lots of anxiety.
If we teach our children to fear, how can they feel comfortable talking to us when they have a problem? Many won’t. So give your teen a little space.
2. Don’t Get Too Emotional
If you knew someone was going to explode at you, would you want to talk to her? Probably not. I have had to work on this for many years. Sometimes, when your teen tells you something, you get angry, scared, frustrated, etc. However, it’s important to not fly off the handle during these conversations. Getting overly emotional will only backfire when you want your teenager to share their true feelings.
3. Listen Actively To Your Teen
I have a confession. I give my teenaged daughters a lot of grief over how attached they are to their smartphones. Sometimes, I have to say something two or three times before they actually hear me. That gets me pretty ticked off. But here’s the issue: I do the same thing to them. When they ask me something and I’m working on the computer or on my phone, I only half-listen.
I’m trying to be a more attentive and active listener with my girls. I hope that showing them 100 percent focus when they talk to me sets a good example. I still have a lot of work to do in this area, but I see progress.
Also, once you put down your gadgets or turn off the TV, make sure you give your teen a chance to talk. Too often, parents like to interrupt to give their two cents. Sometimes our teens just want someone to listen to them. They don’t necessarily need our advice.
Again, I’m guilty of this. One of the things I try to do after I listen to my daughters is ask them, “Do you want my advice?” Most of the time they do, but only if I give them a chance to fully express their thoughts. Other times, though, I just acknowledge how they feel and let them know I’m there for them.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Take it from a mom who knows: If you ask your teen a simple question, that’s the only type of response you’ll get. So, things like “How was your day?” will likely get a “Fine,” in response. Forget the details. To avoid this trap, try asking some open-ended questions.
- “What happened in science class today?”
- “What did you work on in practice today?”
- “What did you like best? Least?”
This is also a good way to work your way toward more challenging social questions. For example, instead of asking right away if parents will be home for a party, you can ask, “Who will be there tonight? About how many people?” Then, after you’ve talked for a bit about the party basics, you can drop the big chaperone question.
5. Talk In The Car
I swear by this technique. When I tell either of my daughters I want to talk when we’re at home, I get a sigh and an eye roll. Why? Because they know they’re about to get a lecture. However, when we’re in the car, things just seem to come out! We’ve got tunes playing, the conversation tends to flow more freely and suddenly they’re spilling their guts. Most of the time, I don’t even need to pry.
Grab those opportunities when you can! I know some of the best chats I’ve had with my daughters happen in the car. The more your teens can feel easier with you, the more likely they’ll come to you for anything.