Tackle it Tuesday – Tackling Communication with Your Teenager

by Guest Contributor

Tackle It Tuesday

Today’s tackle has been submitted by Jerry Weichman, PhD.

Parent: “How was your day?”

Teen: “Good.”

Parent: “What did you do today?”

Teen: “Nothing.”

 Does that sound like a recent conversation you had with your teen? Parents desperately want to communicate with their kids. But few know how to get a tight-lipped teen to open up. The result is a dead-end “chat” that leaves both parent and child feeling disconnected.

 Deeper, richer conversations are possible. In fact, they’re vital to a family’s health. As a parent, you’re modeling communication skills and showing interest in your children’s lives, concerns and successes. If you think your kids would rather do just about anything than chat with you, think again. It might seem that way, but deep down, they’re hungry for your attention, and you can get it.

The Right Time To Talk

 Bad timing can end a conversation before it’s even started. As soon as their children get home from school, parents often pounce: “How was your day?” “Do you have any homework?” “How about tests?” “How did that French exam go?” “Who’s driving you to soccer practice?” The kids haven’t even had a chance to shrug off their backpacks and they’re already being barraged with questions.

 To your teen—and really, to anyone—this is overwhelming. Every day they travel from home to a non-stop world of tests, quizzes, notes, teachers, friends and social dramas. When the last bell rings, they’re catapulted back home again. Their brains are full and their stomachs are probably empty. And the minute they arrive home from school, they’re subjected to what may feel like an interrogation. It’s no surprise that teens shut down or provide only monosyllabic answers.

 Everyone needs transition time. How many times have you barely set foot in the house when you’re pressed to settle squabbles, help with homework or prepare dinner? What you really need is a few minutes to settle in, put your things away, wash up and put on your parent hat. You’re a much better parent when you do.

 Give your teen 30 to 60 minutes to adjust when she arrives home from school or extracurricular activities. Then, when you ask how her day was, you’ll be much more likely to get a meaningful answer. If you’re still getting one-word utterances, simply ask her to give you the high points and low points of her day and in return, you will leave her alone.

 One-on-One Time

 Your teens may claim that they’d rather do just about anything than be seen with you. Don’t believe them. Regardless of what they say, they want and need a relationship with you. That’s true for all of us, no matter how old we—and our parents—are.

 Whether you had a loving or difficult relationship with your mom and dad, whether they are dead or alive, there is still a part of you that even as an adult needs your parents in your life. This is even truer for teens, who need guidance as they grapple with independence, sexuality, self-esteem and heartache.

 Plan one-on-one time with your child at least twice a month. Your teen may initially balk, but that’s normal. Don’t be deterred. Tell them you love them and have not spent enough time with you lately and want to take them out. If they protest, say: “Hey, I’m sorry I love you so much. Let’s go.”

 Eating a meal together is an easy way to spend time together. After all, everyone needs to eat. And a meal is a limited and brief period of time. You’re also on neutral ground and surrounded by other people engaging in conversation.

 When you’re alone with your teen, create some empty space for conversation to flourish. I’ve found that teens, who are used to technology’s constant stimulation, are uncomfortable with “down time” and feel they must fill it up. That’s exactly what you want! So as you open your menus, intentionally create awkward silence.

 Your teen will feel compelled to talk, and he or she will likely provide some of the content you’ve been so eager to hear. “So I’ve got this friend …” they’ll begin. Listen attentively. Let go of any desire to control the conversation or lecture. Just listen. You’ll be astonished—and delighted—by how much your previously uncommunicative teen has to say to you.

 Making the Connection

 Getting blood from a stone might seem easier than drawing your close-mouthed teen into conversation. Here are three tips to help conversation flow:

  •  Give him some breathing space. Let your teen unwind for 30 to 60 minutes after arriving home before you ask about his day.
  • Set aside time just for him. At least twice a month, spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Take them out for a meal or to a sports or arts event, or go for a walk or run together.

  •  Embrace silence. If you want your teens to talk, be an attentive listener. Kids are quick to fill “awkward” silences with revelations and conversation.

Jerry Weichman, Ph.D. is an expert on teen and preteen issues and has a clinical psychology practice based at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach. He is the author of the teen self-help book “How To Deal” and a popular speaker about parenting, bullying, and adolescent coping skills. As a result of overcoming a childhood lower leg amputation and becoming a Division I college football player, Dr. Jerry has a unique perspective on coping with—and surmounting—the challenges of adolescence. Follow him on Twitter @drjerryweichman or visit www.drjerryweichman.com.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Samantha June 11, 2013 at 10:58 am

I find that talking to my teens is about creating the space for them to feel comfortable and completely accepted. Sometimes they feel judged when we respond to their choices in a negative way. Opening up the space to talk when they are young rather than controlling everything they do and think makes it easier for them to open up when they are in their teens. You’ve already set the groundwork for a great relationship.

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2 Tanya June 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Great tips on talking with my teen. My son isn’t a teen yet but one day he will be. I think everyone needs their space and that helps with relationships of all kinds. One on one time is so important too.

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3 Alka June 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I just happened to connect today with my pre-teen about her stress about not being popular. I have been watching and worrying over her anxiety and disappointments, and even though I tried several different approaches, somehow things seemed to get worse. She is a good student, very organized and so usually is the controlled, reliable one, so often she doesn’t get a lot of parental attention from us because we think she has things under control. Now I know that I need to be more demonstrative towards her, specially as she enters junior high.

I wrote about this on my blog

http://curiousmindsonline.com/2013/06/11/popularity-praise-politeness-and-passion/#more-310

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4 Lauren June 11, 2013 at 11:58 pm

My kids will be teens in just three short years … hopefully, all will go well. I love how talkative and sweet they are now.

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