Having Trouble Talking to Teens: Help for Parents of Teenagers
Being a parent isn’t easy. This is true from infancy to adulthood. Every stage our children enter brings new challenges and we as parents need to stay on top of our game.
The teen years, however, can seem especially challenging. There are times when I look at my own kids and wonder what happened to those cute, loveable children who used to climb up on my lap and cuddle. The days when they would hang on my every word are long gone. No longer do they look to me and their father for all the answers to life’s problems, and no longer do they feel the need to talk to us about everything that goes on in their day and in their lives.
For some, talking to a teenager can be a little intimidating. Somewhere along the way many teens have acquired an I’m-too-cool-for-you attitude. Even those who don’t outwardly express this attitude can sometimes seem to suppress this as a true feeling. Even then, it oozes out of them in their condescending speech or lack of eye contact.
While not every teenager has this attitude, just the simple fact that some do, can cause many adult to clam up and wait until they are in their 20’s before they strike up a conversation.
No matter what attitude your teen displays, deep down, they really do still want to talk to you. They may not show it, but they do still value your opinion and want you to think the best of them. I wonder if that is why they keep so many secrets. They don’t want to disappoint the very parents that they’ve looked up to all their lives.
If you’re having trouble talking with your teen or if you feel they are living a double life and keeping your in the dark, please know you are not alone. While I’m still learning, I have gained a few insights that you may find helpful when talking to your own teens.
Finding the Time
Don’t schedule so many activities that you never have time to talk. Sitting around the dinner table as a family may seem a little outdated, but it’s still a very valuable tradition. If you find that your weekly schedule does not allow for everyone to sit down and eat at the same time, then it’s time to reevaluate that schedule.
Food brings out conversation. This is a great time for everyone in the family to talk about their day and what’s going on at work, school, or with friends. If it’s been a while since your family has sat down together, why not try a few of these tips?
- Schedule a family night a few days in advance. Give everyone some notice, so that they will not make any other plans.
- Prepare a sit down kind of meal. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be hamburgers and hot dogs or it could be lasagna and salad. Whatever it is, plan ahead and make it special. Make sure it’s something that everyone will enjoy. You might even through in some cookies for dessert – anything to keep everyone lingering around the table.
- Make sure the TV is turned off. No one is going to converse if you’re competing with the television. Even the news can be a distraction. If you absolutely must have noise, put on some music, but keep the volume low.
- Leave the cell phones in another room. This goes for the parents as well. The texting can wait until after dinner. The phones are another distraction that you can do without.
- Keep the atmosphere relaxed. Don’t start in with third degree questions. Start talking about your own day. Tell them something good or interesting that happened that day and see if that can start the ball rolling.
- Don’t get discouraged. If your efforts are met with some hesitation or blatant eye rolling, don't give up. If they aren’t used to having a family dinner, the change may seem a little strange. Stick to your guns, though.
- Enjoy yourself. Don’t get worked up and worried about making everything perfect. Enjoy your kids at this time in their lives just as you did in their earlier stages.
- Plan another family dinner night in the near future. Try to plan these dinners as often as possible and increase their frequency as much as you can.
Food has a comfort factor that brings people together. The more you can eat together, the closer your family will become. While having a regular family dinner can be vital in communicating with your teenagers, this isn’t the only method. Often there are things going on in their lives that they are very uncomfortable sharing with any adult, and are even less likely to bring it up in front of everyone else in the family. The family dinner are helpful to get the ball rolling and open the lines of communication, but you will have to be even more intentional to get them to open up even further.
We All Make Mistakes
Only a few short hours after I wrote this well thought out advice, I went and blew it. Irritated by my 17-year-old’s attitude about his summer job, I’m pretty sure I broke every guideline and suggestion that is laid out in this hub. We both left the conversation frustrated and angry.
Teenagers have a way of pushing our buttons and causing even the most steady, sane, calm parents to lose it every once in a while.
When that happens to you, and I’m pretty sure it happens to all of us, it’s not the end of the world. Keep trying. Admit to your kids when you make mistakes. Apologize when you get out of line. Set an example of how to behave once a mistake has been made.
We’re only human – but so are our kids.
I’m learning every day what it means to be a parent of a teenager. Some days I get it right, some days I don’t. Parenting is hard!
If you are having a difficult time getting your teen to open up, why not keep some of these tips in mind?
- Schedule a date one-on-one with your child. Take him or her out for ice cream or coffee. I like to take my daughter to a local bakery that sells some amazing fresh-baked cookies for only fifty cents each. We can sit on the patio and chat while we eat the cookies.
- Look for times when conversation can happen naturally. Sometimes the most routine moments of our day can bring on the best conversations. Look for good conversation starters when you are riding in the car or working together around the house or on the lawn. Even shopping trips can be good times to talk.
- Include their friends in some of your family activities. Getting to know their friends can give you a little insight to what’s going on in your child’s life.
- Ask open-ended questions that don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer. Ask their opinions too. But here’s a word of caution, don’t get really upset if their opinions differ from yours or even from the values you’ve taught them as a child. They may just be trying to figure things out on their own. If you get upset, they are more likely to clam up and keep their thoughts to themselves.
- Keep your head. If you succeed in getting your teen to talk, they may say some things that you don’t want to hear. Whether it’s about their friends or themselves, when they tell you something bad or make a confession, do your best not to overreact. Listen calmly. There may still need to be some consequences, however, but remain calm during the conversation.
- Don’t try to be too cool. You are still the parent. You are not their bff. Don’t even try to speak their language. When they laugh at your out-of-touch ways or fashions, laugh along with them. If you need affirmation from others, look to your own peer group. Leave the kids-stuff to the kids.
Like I said before, parenting isn't easy. These teen years, however, are vital. This is the time when they are looking at paths that can shape the rest of their lives. The more we as parents can keep the lines of communication open, we will still be able to help steer them in the right direction.
Do you have teenagers in your home? What communication techniques do you find useful with your kids? I’d love to hear from other parents in the comment section below.
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