Does your teen meet you with a blank stare, the eye roll/scoff combo, or an explosion of emotion every time you ask a question or try to have a conversation? You’re not alone. Many parents report that they argue too much with their teen, while others aren’t able to get their teen to talk at all. In both cases, the lines of communication are clearly frayed and in desperate need of mending.
According to a Harris Poll, 78% of parents are sure their teens can talk to them about anything. Teens disagreed. Many attempts by parents to encourage their teen to communicate with them often backfire and create more anger, resentment, stubbornness, opposition, and back talk. Think about all the conversations you’ve had with your teen in the past few days: What were they about? What emotions came up? Did they end on a positive or negative note?
If you find that the majority of your interactions with your teen involve some form of lecturing, correcting, nagging, or yelling, it’s likely that you’ve been pushing him further inside his shell, making it even more unlikely that he’ll open up to you in the future.
Yet one of the best ways to reconnect with your teen (or anyone for that matter) is through casual, authentic conversation. If you can encourage your teen to talk with you about mundane, every-day things on a regular basis, it’s more likely your teen will feel comfortable talking to you about more serious issues when they arise.
So, how do you become the type of parent your teen wants to talk to? Well, it’s all in your approach.
7 tactics for talking with teens:
- Listen more than you talk. Parents tend to talk too much and listen too little. In fact, the number one reason teens don’t like talking to parents is because they “will not shut up.” Next time you interact with your teen, try focusing on being present, actively listening, and even enjoying your time together.
- Lose the lectures. Teens complain that when they talk to their parents about various things, they use what they say either to make a point, to teach them something, or to explain certain things. It’s difficult for parents to pass up a great “teaching moment,” however, no matter how wise your words may be, your teen will reflexively shut down and tune you out as soon as she senses a lecture coming on. That means the only thing you end up teaching your teen is not to come to you the next time they need to talk to someone.
- Enlist as an ally. There may be times (a lot of them), when your teen feels like the entire world is against her. More than ever she needs to know that you are on her side. Try to be neutral and provide your teen a safe place where she can talk openly about what is going on without fear of being judged or criticized. Think about it, if you turn what she says against her, do you really think she’s going to feel safe coming to you in the future?
- Persist but don’t push. You may want an answer right NOW, but excessive questioning and nagging will likely push your teen to shut down even more. Just because he doesn’t want to talk to you this moment, doesn’t mean he won’t be ready to talk later. Your teen is more likely to talk to you when the conversation is on his terms. Let your teen know you’re always ready to listen and continue to drop gentle reminders until your teen decides to take you up on it.
- Be interruptible. When your teen finally does decide she wants to talk, prove to her she’s a priority by giving her your undivided attention. Unfortunately, there will be times when your teen’s timing is just horrible. If there is no possible way to break away, make it clear that you do want to talk to her, but when you can give her the attention she deserves. Back it up immediately by scheduling a specific time to talk with her that day.
- Pick the right time and place. Select a time when both of you are feeling calm and unhurried. Find a place that has few distractions and as much privacy as possible. Car rides, dinner time, errand runs or while doing something fun together like volunteering are all good places to start.
- Collect conversation kindling. Compile a list of fun topics and thought-provoking questions that can spark small talk. Try to avoid hot-button issues. Keep in mind, the more interesting the topic is to your teen, the more likely he’ll participate in the conversation willingly and, dare we hope, enthusiastically.
Ultimately, you want to encourage your teen to open up, feel listened to, and get comfortable talking to you about difficult subjects, like drugs, sex, or romantic relationships. Teenagers who receive a significant amount of positive verbal attention and interaction want to talk with their parents more—so it's important to make yourself available when your teen is ready to reach out. With a little bit of patience, understanding and persistence, you can rebuild your relationship with your teen, along with the trust and respect that go with it.
About the author
Dr. Cameron Caswell is a family coach and founder of the Fuel Center, which specializes in helping parents and their teens redefine their relationship, rebuild mutual respect and trust, and learn to live together in harmony. Learn more at www.theFuelCenter.com.