A big worry for parents when faced with raising teenagers (and even preteens sometimes!) is how do you get them to talk to you? Teenagers can be secretive, mysterious creatures. They can be moody and temperamental, prone to fly off the handle at the slightest innocent question. Often they make us, the parents, feel like we’re inconveniencing them simply by existing. It can be a frustrating time for everyone involved, but there are things to keep in mind and strategies to try that can help make it a little bit easier.
Actually listen, and listen with intent to understand. Don’t approach a conversation with your teenager assuming it’s not important or that their thoughts aren’t relevant because they’re young. Don’t assume they’re lying or trying to get out of something if the conversation is a result of a problem that has occurred recently. If you’ve already made up your mind before the conversation has even begun then you’re just wasting your time. Give them a chance!
Talk about things they are interested in. Is hearing your teen talk about Fortnite it’s only special realm of hell? Yes. But if it’s something they enjoy that is important to them, it’s important for you to make an effort to listen at least some of the time. It’s less about being interested in that specific thing, and more about showing your child that you care about what is important to them.
Remember what it was like to be a teenager. Remember feeling misunderstood? Maybe sometimes even afraid? Did you ever keep secrets from your parents because you were worried about how they may react? Maybe they had reacted poorly in the past and so you were scared to confide in them because of the memory of that incident. Or perhaps you were embarrassed for one reason or another. Possibly your parents put so much emphasis on the importance of good grades, for example, that when you failed a test or a class you were too scared tell them. I think a lot of parents simply forget what it actually felt like to be that age.
How you react when your child confides in you is everything. It sets the stage for how they might feel when problems come up in the future. Ideally you want to be the person they come to when things happen in their life, both good and bad. But if the way you react in those moments hurts their feelings, makes them uncomfortable or is in any way dismissive of how they feel about it, there’s a really good chance that they’ll remember that next time and they’ll hesitate when it comes to approaching you again.
Do NOT dismiss your child’s concerns if they tell you they suspect they may have an issue relating to mental health. Depression, anxiety, whatever it might be, if your child is brave enough to tell you they think they might be struggling and you outright dismiss their concerns they’re not going to come to you with these struggles later on if things get worse, which could have absolutely disastrous consequences later on. Absolutely do NOT argue back about all the good things they have in their life that (in your eyes) mean they couldn’t possibly be struggling in that way. That’s not how it works and could in fact only serve to make them feel worse. Listen to their concerns and take appropriate steps to find them necessary help.
If you child confides in you—even about something you do or have done that upsets them—you need to at least try push your own feelings and ego aside in that moment and just listen to what they’re telling you. It does no one any good to get defensive and have it turn into a fight. That’s a great way to ensure they won’t open up to you again in the future.
Obviously I’m not saying to just stand there and let your child verbally abuse you, but say for example your teenage son summons up the confidence to sit you down and tell you that you recently made some comments that hurt his feelings. If your immediate reaction is to argue back or start listing all his shortcomings, the rude things he’s said to you in the past, or to otherwise make the situation all about your own feelings, you’ve effectively ensured he won’t feel like he can come talk to you in the future.
Especially don’t start listing all the things you’ve done for them as it that somehow justifies or cancels out the hurtful thing you’ve done. That is just a gross, manipulative and yes, abusive, tactic that is used far too often.
Remember your child’s feelings are valid even if they contradict your own. This might be hard to accept but your kids are allowed to have opinions that are different from yours, even when it comes to things that directly affect you or things that you find very important. They are their own people and may be experiencing and seeing things differently than you do. That’s not a bad thing. If anything this should be seen as an opportunity to learn from each other by exposure to different perspectives, and you should be proud that they’re learning to take in information and make decisions about how they feel about it.
Respect their privacy. If your child confides in you, don’t include other people in the conversation without their permission (not including immediate safety threats of course, or in some cases something that directly affects the other person) this includes the other parent, their grandparents, or siblings. It doesn’t take any extra effort to ask your teenager if it’s ok if you share what they’ve told you, and yes it might be a little tough to keep it to yourself if they decline but it’s still important that you do so. If they want someone else to know, that’s their decision to make, not yours. Betraying their trust like that is a sure way to guarantee they won’t extend that same trust in the future.
Include low pressure, casual conversations whenever possible that make it clear that you just enjoy talking to them. Not everything has to be a deep meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s just fun to talk about random things that happened throughout the day. Rehash old memories, talk about favourite hobbies or movies or whatever. Remind each other of a funny thing that happened. Just talk for no other reason than sometimes it’s fun to talk to each other. Compliment them on something they’ve done recently that really impressed you, ask for their input or feedback on a decision you’re trying to make. Just talk.
There are many other things I could add to this list, but it’s a start. Sometimes I myself struggle with some of the things I’ve included here but I understand how important it is and I try to prioritize them as much as possible. I want my teenage child to always feel comfortable to come to me with anything, and I’ll be 100% honest, that’s not always the case. So it’s something I will continue to work on.
Let me know your thoughts, what are some of your key things you try to keep in mind when communicating with your teenagers? What are things you wish adults in your life had known or remembered when you were a teen? Leave me a comment and let me know.