Does your teen communicate frequently and clearly with you? Many parents are disappointed because they thought they’d have a more intimate relationship with their teenagers. Once adolescents start the journey toward adulthood, however, most begin to depend more on their friends for conversation and support while leaving their parents wondering what’s going on. If your teenager seems to not want to talk much, take solace in the fact that once he or she is an adult, the situation will likely change. In the meantime, however, here are some tips that can help you improve communication with your teen and develop the relationship that you so desire.
1. Respect Your Teen’s Time
Your child probably has a schedule that is just as busy, if not busier, than yours. This means that when you’re available to talk, he or she might not be. Don’t simply barge into his or her room and ask that they stop what they’re doing to talk to you (outside of an emergency, of course). You might not think that chatting with a friend or reading a book is more important than chatting with you, but your teen might have other ideas.
Instead, ask if it’s a good time to talk. If your teen says no, schedule a time that works for both of you. It’s best if you can pick a time that you can spend together each week. Consistency is important when attempting to improve communication with your teen and build a better relationship. For example, ask your teen if he or she would like to go out for breakfast every Saturday morning or for a long walk on Wednesday evenings. These are great times to talk because both of you will have been anticipating the time all week long.
2. Multi-Task Strategically
Although as a general rule, humans are not good at multitasking, you can use the practice strategically to get your teen to open up. When he or she is engrossed in an enjoyable activity, they might be more likely to relax and start talking. Doing an activity together also takes off some of the pressure; if it’s silent, then at least your hands or legs are busy.
Talking in the car is another tried-and-true strategy. As the driver, you need to look straight ahead, so you can’t look into your teen’s eyes as he or she talks about a topic that is sensitive, potentially embarrassing, or emotionally charged. One caveat: If your teen is a new driver, don’t approach emotional topics while he or she is behind the wheel. Either have them pull over or you drive to keep everyone safe.
3. Ask the Right Questions
Another tip to help improve communication with your teen is to pay attention to the type of questions you are asking. Every parent has asked, “how was school today?” and received a noncommittal grunt in response at one time or another. You probably already know that a broad, generic question like that is not likely to get a reluctant teenager to start talking. Another type of question that isn’t generally effective at eliciting conversation is the kind that can be answered with a simple yes or no. “Do you have a lot of homework?” “Are you and Jamie getting along lately?” and “Do you have a crush on anyone?” are all questions that are likely to be answered with a single word.
Instead, ask questions that take some thought and several words (or, preferably, several sentences) to answer. Examples of questions that will bring out more involved answers include the following:
- “What are you learning about in science class?”
- “Tell me about what you and Jamie were arguing about earlier.”
- “What do you think is a good age for teenagers to start dating?”
4. Listen More Than You Speak
You might have heard the adage about having two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you speak. Nowhere is this truer than it is with teenagers. Once your teen starts talking, it’s time for you to stay fairly quiet. Anything you say could be misinterpreted by your teen and he or she could take it as a cue to stop talking. While a few questions for clarification are fine, it’s best to simply listen in many cases.
You should not, however, be completely unresponsive. Make sure that you are showing interest, either by putting in fillers (such as “ah” or “okay”) or by nodding and making eye contact periodically. Don’t look at your phone or start looking around the room like you’re not interested. Your teenager will pick up on these actions and might decide to clam up.
A benefit of not talking much once your teen is speaking is that you won’t have the opportunity to make judgments on what he or she is saying. Try to keep your facial expression and body language neutral if your teen is saying something you don’t agree with. Rolling your eyes, looking incredulous, or folding your arms are all negative reactions that your teen probably won’t take as encouragement to continue talking and will not help to improve communication.
5. Don’t Be Judgmental
Remember back to when you were a teenager. You likely had some ideas that were drastically different from what your parents thought. You also probably resented it if your parents tried to talk you out of your ideas, particularly if they tried to convince you that what you were thinking was wrong or stupid. Unless your teen is about to do something unsafe or illegal, it’s important that you restrain yourself from making judgments. Even if you think your teen’s thoughts are completely off-the-wall, it’s important that you don’t blurt this out.
At another time, you can try having a reasonable, rational conversation about whatever your teen was telling you about. In some cases, it will have been a fleeting thought and it’s not anything that your teen truly believes or thinks about. Other times, it will be a strongly held belief of your teen that is shocking or disturbing to you. Explore the various options and try to keep an open mind.
Parenting a teen is not easy, and that’s particularly true when the teen is not willingly opening up and communicating. If you have tried implementing these tips to improve communication and are still having trouble relating to your adolescent, consider seeking out family therapy to help you both get through the issues and strengthen your relationship.