If you're the parent of a teenager, you've probably noticed some major behavioral changes over the past few years. You are not alone. I’m right there with you because three of my four kids are teenagers. In addition to my kids, I have also fostered 2 other teenagers. Let’s just begin this article with a moment of silence and prayer for those of us in this particular arena right now? God, please bless every parent and child during these challenging and growing years. May we all survive, amen!
Although these behaviors are normal for adolescence, it's still necessary to keep the communication flowing between the two of you.
As kids enter their teens, they start spending more time alone in their rooms or out with friends. Maybe your teen also seems less interested in hanging out with you and more interested in listening to music or talking on the phone. Ouch, Right? This stung a little for me with my first kid. The key is to not take it personal, it’s how most of us are wired at that age. I know I was.
The way that one teen communicates may not work as well with another. I have found this to be true in our home and parenting has little to do with it. It’s about them, not us. For example, my oldest son is very private and not forthcoming. That requires me to ask questions about his sports, girls, music and friends.
Now, son number three is all about the story and details. Therefore, I must stay present so he feels heard. He is a great story teller and I have a slight case of adult ADHD, bad combo. It’s mine to manage not his. So, I wiggle my toes to keep me present and it works. To keep conversations flowing with your teen, try some of the methods listed below to see which ones help you the most.
1.Rather than doing the talking, focus on listening.
Professional therapists have learned that many teen clients report feeling like their parents talk "at" them and rarely listen to what their kids have to say.
ïBecause some parents become disappointed about teens' withdrawal from the family, they might tend to do all the talking or even become a little "preachy" in their communication.
*I’ll be the first to admit that I am totally guilty of this, especially as a professional youth coach. I constantly have to remind myself that all my kids hear is their mom. To them I am not their coach or teacher. Remember the famous Miss Othmar?, beloved teacher of Charlie Brown? Her only line was,“Wah wah.” I often think that’s what my kids hear from me. Look, listening is a skill that I am still trying to master. I have a tattoo on my finger that reads “shhh”, to remind me to cover my mouth and listen.
ï If you can de-focus from what you want to say and focus instead on listening, your teen will be more encouraged to communicate with you.
2. Show interest in your teen's interests.
Your teen's passions are ways to catch a glimpse into what’s going on with him or her. These are about their interests NOT yours.
ïWhen she's talking about songs, favorite performers, books, or latest social media craze use the discussion as a springboard to keep her communicating with you. You'll be surprised with what you learn when you demonstrate that you want to know more about what she loves.
*For example, I have a client who loves Salad Fingers. What the heck is Salad Fingers? You ask. Well I didn’t know either but I became willing to learn. Salad Fingers is a British web series created by David Firth in 2004. I watched an episode with my client because it was important to her. Now, I’m still not a fan but we are closer because I was willing.
3.Take advantage of time spent in the car with your teen.
- Many parents transport their teenagers to and from school every day during the school year. When it's just the two of you in the car, consider it an opportunity to listen and have a meaningful exchange.
*This is my favorite time with my kids. Finding time alone with each of them is very challenging. I use the drive from Larkspur to Colorado Springs to connect with my oldest on the way to school. We enjoy laughing to Brooke and Jubal in the morning on the radio. I practice active listening by asking him about is ultimate frisbee team and summer plans.
4.Carve out time each day to communicate.
- Avoid allowing the business of everyday life to prevent you from talking with your teenager. Sometimes, real life takes over and precious time with your teen is difficult to come by. However, make it a point each day to find the time to touch base.
*Unplugging is the easiest way to create space for communication. In our home we have a “no phone” policy at our dinner table. However, as an entrepreneur, business owner and public speaker I recognize that we can’t always be there. When it’s been a crazy week for me, I simply use them being plugged-in to my advantage. I pause and send them each a text message letting them know how much I care.
5. Avoid dishing out punishment for info gained during conversations with your teen.
Take care to avoid giving negative consequences resulting from a discussion with your teen.
- You can surely understand the reasoning behind this strategy-if the teen is punished whenever they open up to you, they'll avoid talking with you in the future.
*I have seen this backfire over and over again in my coaching practice. Child tells mom about a friend issue and the mom runs to the other parent. The child feels betrayed by the parent and trust is lost. I have the following boundary with my own children as with my clients. Unless someone is going to hurt themselves or someone else then I keep my mouth shut, plain and simple!
6. Keep teens involved by allowing them choices.
Hopefully, you've worked hard so far in keeping all family members interested and participating in fun activities together, well before your kids moved into the teen years anyway.
- If so, use that momentum to encourage your teen to continue to make choices for family get-togethers and activities.
- Enlist your teen to help you plan Dad's or Mom's birthday dinner. Allow them to choose the movie for Family Movie Night.
- They are capable of preparing a meal. Ask them plan and make one meal a week.
Teens that have choices at home and are praised for their involvement are less likely to rebel and may spend more time with Family.
*It was easier before they all had different interests and schedules. We play games on occasion but going glamping is our family go-to for togetherness. and we are a family of homebodies. However, my boys and their dad LOVE to snow board.
7. Have fun together.
Remember to joke and laugh with your teen. After all, you were a teen once and can hopefully recall what it felt like.
ïUse your adolescent experience for funny stories and bonding with your teen. They'll most likely appreciate hearing your own stories about adolescence if they're told in the spirit of openness, fun, sharing, and love.
*Do I remember what it felt like to be a teenager? Why yes I do. Now I was a bit wild, so some of my stories are not appropriate for my kids and clients to hear. However, I can bond with my son over my high school soccer career because he plays. I was a great player back in the day and so he values my coaching him on his kicking. The stories I find most valuable are the ones where I made mistakes and learned from them. I often share my relationship mistakes with my daughter because I want her to make different choices. I didn’t value myself. Your story is who you are, share it!
As a parent, you have the responsibility to stay connected with your teen. I often hear “they won’t try,” but don’t stop. They don’t know they need us, but we do! I know it’s hard but I promise beauty will come from your willingness to tap-in.
Practice these methods to encourage open communication between you and your teen. You'll be pleased at the responses you get.
Can you or your child use help with:
- Life, college, or career direction
- Enhancing motivation, performance, and engagement in school or work
- Building confidence and effectiveness
- or positive behavior change?
HardBeauty Coaching supports thriving families all over the country. We can offer you support both virtually and in-person. HardBeauty Coaching serves youth, parents, grandparents raising grandchildren and the entire family relationship. We have several affordable options please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.