Talking to teens can be a challenge. They often seem like they don’t want to talk with their parents anymore. And while connecting with a teenager can be difficult, clinical psychologist Jo Lamble says that the way parents go about having a conversation can make a real difference.
Try to understand the changes they’re experiencing
When you communicate with your teenager, remember they’re probably finding the changes of adolescence even more confusing than you are. They’re still trying to develop confidence in their new selves and are probably having at least a little bit of trouble adjusting to the new ways of their teenage minds and bodies. Pointing out every mistake they make or being over-attentive to their changing bodies, is unlikely to help. But noticing the good things they do, congratulating them and telling you why you appreciate their actions will help them develop pride and confidence.
Talk to them respectfully
What you say and when you say it, also makes a real difference. Teenagers don’t like being told what to do or getting nagged any more than the next person. Let little things go by, and focus on finding effective ways to communicate and negotiate through the ‘battles’ that really matter. Schedule a time to talk about important things and avoid talking about them in the heat of the moment.
There will undoubtedly be some conflict as your teenager starts to assert their independence. It’s important as a parent that you use these moments to help teach you teenager strategies for resolving conflict positively. Don’t shout or swear and avoid saying anything that might demean them. Apologise if you make a mistake or misunderstand a situation. Avoid putting them on the spot by asking judgemental or threatening question like, “Why did you do that?” If there is some behaviour you’d like them to think more about, simply point it out to them.
Talk to them about the world
And don’t just talk to your teenager about their behaviour. Make sure you also spend time talking about what’s going on in the world around you. Share your own mistakes, dreams, frustrations and opinions- let them know you’re not perfect and there are things you don’t know. Ask their opinion and get their advice. Ask about things they’re interested in, rather than things you want to know about. Respect their privacy and accept that there are some things they probably won’t want to talk to you about.
Make time to talk when they’re ready
Teenagers may be more willing to talk in situations where there is less eye contact, such as in the car, or watching TV together. This makes the communication less intense and confronting for them.
Make the most of the times when your teen is in the mood for a chat. It can be difficult if you’re busy trying to cook dinner for the family or have just arrived home from work and want ten minutes to yourself. But your conversation will be much more casual and less threatening for your teenager, if they start it.
If your teenager indicates they want to talk, try to stop what you are doing and give them a cue to let them know you’re listening, or that you’ll be with them in just a minute. I used to do this all the time with my kids – if they started saying something that I could tell that they really wanted me to hear, I’d say “Just a second, let me grab a cuppa and I’m all yours.” It worked so well over the years, that I clearly remember my daughter saying on many occasions “You better put the kettle on, have I got a story for you!”
Let them know you’re listening
Once you’ve settled down to talk, look them in the eye and show you’re interested by asking questions. Listen intently, don’t judge and hold onto your advice. Always ask what your teenager thinks is the best course of action. If they do open up and tell you a secret, respect their trust and don’t tell other people, even if you don’t see any reason for them to keep it a secret.
Acknowledge their emotions without pretending you know what they’re feeling. Let them know you’ll try to help them work it out. And show them that you have faith in them to work it out for themselves.
Talking to teens is about quality not quantity
Talking to teenagers is rarely easy and it can sometimes seem almost impossible to engage them in a conversation. Persistence and patience are important. Keep trying to talk, even if your teenager resists. Keep your communication positive and make time when your teenager is ready to talk. You probably won’t spend as much time talking with your teenager as you did when they were a child. So make sure the time you do get is quality time.
Kindly contributed by Jo Lamble (Jo Lamble BSc Psych (Hons), M Clin Psych (Hons), MAPS), Clinical Psychologist and author.