Raising teens who talk openly is a problem many parents share.
I mean, we all want to raise teens who will talk to us when they reach the challenging teen years, right?
But how do you do that?
And what do you do if your child has turned into a teenager virtually overnight and suddenly isn’t opening up anymore?
I want to share 6 tips that will work for any parent, regardless of age.
So while it’s true that the earlier you start, the easier it will be, it’s never too late to start new habits.
So, where CAN you start if you’re trying to get your teens to talk to you?
Here are 6 steps that will help in raising teens who’ll have those more meaningful conversations you want.
Prioritize One-On-One Time Daily
For busy parents with busy kids, this step may seem incredibly challenging.
But everyone can squeeze in ten minutes per kid.
So whether that means ten minutes per child or teen over Facetime because you’re traveling or you sit down to play video games with your teen at the end of the day, each parent needs to prioritize one-on-one time with each child. Every. Single. Day.
By creating the consistency, your kids will know that they have individual time with you if they do need to have a conversation. Your kids will know they can count on you to give your undivided attention during that time.
It’s also important, during this time, to meet them on their own terms. In other words, how do they want to spend that one-on-one time? Is it going to be a daily walk the two of you go on? Is it time spent making dinner together, one-on-one? Is it time playing video games?
Let your child choose the activity, even if you only have ten minutes. And let them know at the end that you value the time together.
It would look something like this…
“Hey Joe… I have to make dinner in a little while, but do you want to hang out for a while and shoot baskets or play video games…? Or is there something else you want to do?”
“Okay buddy, I’ve got to go make dinner, but this was really fun… want to do it at the same time tomorrow?”
You can, obviously, make that exchange your own, but you get the general idea.
Your teen or pre-teen may be reluctant to open up at first, but they’ll eventually adjust to the new routine and come to count on that one-on-one time, knowing they have your full attention.
Value His or Her Feelings
I remember in high school that my best friend’s sister told her, “In 10 years, the problems you’re having now will feel like nothing.”
Okay, well that’s all well and good… but it doesn’t make me want to talk to you about my struggles.
Because to kids, their problems and feelings (however minor it may be) are REAL. Their pain is real.
In fact, did you know that if you were to give your teen pain meds it can actually help what they’re going through? (Not that I’m suggesting that, by any means… but I say that to demonstrate that the overwhelming feelings they’re experiencing are LEGIT.)
So resist the temptation to say things like, “well when I was a kid…” or “a year from now, this won’t matter…”
Instead, validate their feelings with kindness and compassion. And don’t judge or lecture. Sometimes kids just want you to listen.
As Dr. Lisa Damour explains, “Like grown-ups, teens need to unload sometimes. And since they have to be cool to friends, attentive to teachers, and cooperative with coaches, they let loose on you. Do not try to solve every problem they throw at you (you probably tried this and found she thought your ideas sucked). Explain the difference between venting and complaining and ask, simply, does she want advice, or does she want to vent?”
Ask Better Questions
While it’s important to be asking your teens how school is going… the reality is, most of them just want to have the day behind them. This is especially true if they’re struggling.
“My parents used to want to talk about what we were all grateful for every night at dinner. It was OK at first, but [at the time] I was struggling in middle school, I was tired at the end of the day, and my selfish teenage brain was only grateful for not being at school any longer,” said 15-year-old Finn from Sumner, Washington. “Eventually I asked if we could stop doing it. So we started talking about current events. Talking about the news is way better than being grilled about my day or telling them I am ‘thankful for this pork chop.’ And I really am thankful. Just not right after a day of school.”
So instead of grilling them about their day, talk to them about things you know they’re interested in, such as the video game they’re trying to master or how their basketball team is doing.
The key is to move beyond the basic questions that are only going to result in one-word responses and a teen who flees the table the moment dinner is over.
Start a Communication Journal
Sometimes it’s hard for teens to approach adults when they have a problem or want to talk about something embarrassing (which is why it’s SO IMPORTANT to be consistently non-judgmental when you do talk).
This is why a communication journal is invaluable… for both boys and girls!
One mom blogger writes, “This journal is a ‘trading’ journal. I may write in it one day and then leave it on my son’s bed. He may get to it that day…or can even take a few days to write me back. It can be about anything. Like, really. I want these to be safe spots for these two boys of mine to be able to share openly.”
She went on to say that for her friend, “these journals were sacred during those fun ‘teenage’ years with her kids. Even if they were moping around the house, or off with friends, once or twice a week, the journal would show up on her nightstand and she’d be thrilled to read what they had to share with her. Some of those entries were heartfelt needs for mom, in a way that wasn’t always easy to express aloud as a teen. Some were just ‘hey mom, you’re awesome!’ No matter what, she treasured them (and continues to with her youngest).”
You could even have two journals, one for each parent. This makes parents easily accessible individually. There may be conversations a boy would be uncomfortable having with Mom. On that occasion, grabbing Dad’s journal is the perfect solution. (And vice versa!)
Timing is Everything
You obviously don’t want to have a serious conversation over the dinner table, with the entire family present.
The car is a great place to get your kids to open up. One mom writes, “Both of my sons would talk to me in the car more than any other location. I think the physical environment when we didn’t have to face each other was a big plus. Find excuses for your teen to travel with you and use the opportunity to find out more about their world.”
For other kids, it can be easier to talk in the dark. If you go in their room at the end of the night to tell them goodnight or say prayers, you may find that, in the safety of the dark room, they initiate a conversation about something that’s on their mind.
Like all things…you have to be consistent and stay the course. Whether you’re using Table Talk to ask better questions or starting a communication journal, the key to successful communication with your teen is not giving up if you don’t see a change after day two.
Final Thoughts on Raising Teens Who Talk More Meaningfully With You:
Don’t get frustrated or expect change overnight. Persistence will pay off when it comes to communicating with your teens. Just avoid the temptation to pry or be pushy or interrogative. Follow their lead when it comes to talking. To see the biggest impact, we suggest:
- Prioritizing One-On-One Time
- Value His/Her Feelings
- Ask Better Questions
- Start a Communication Journal
- Timing is Everything
- Be Consistent
Are you using any of these strategies? We would love to hear from you!