One day, I had a son who would jump in the car after school and tell me what he had for lunch, who he played soccer with, and how the bus driver forgot to drop off the kid down the road. The next day, when he hopped in my car, it felt like I got nothing—no details, no information.
Although it really didn’t happen that quickly, communication with my children did hit significant bumps as they traveled from childhood to their teenage years. Communicating with teens is a lot like trying to jump on a moving train. Each stage in the life of your teen brings new emotions, ideas and priorities. Your communication habits with them have to change with each stage, too.
The tricks to interacting with your teen at 14 will be more complex when he is 16. Getting them to open up—or even to talk at all—will be harder. As parents, we must continually seek to find those communication triggers and frame our interaction around them.
Here are a few ways to get started.
1. Your teen will open up if you talk about his or her interests.
Don’t make communication with your teen something that only occurs when there is a problem or you are angry or hurt. Intentionally plan time in your schedule to get in her world—movies, sports, ballet, band, etc. Although there's a time and a place to have hard conversations with your teen, make a deliberate plan during these times not to talk about anything conflictual or argumentative. Just enjoy being with your teen and building “non-tense” communication with them.
2. Your teen will talk if you're available.
I cannot tell you how many inconvenient times my sons wanted to talk to me while they were in their teen years. It would seem like there was always a pan of boiling spaghetti in the kitchen or a phone call I needed to return, or worse yet, it was 1:16 a.m. Turn off the stove, delay the call or get a little caffeine to wake you up. When your teen wants to share, his timing will never be your timing and many times, the best conversations are unplanned. Stop what you are doing to capture this important moment to engage with them.
3. Your teen will talk if you will listen.
I surveyed some older teens at my church and asked them, “What shuts you down when talking with your parents?” Each of them said the same thing—that they didn’t want to continue talking when their parents highjacked the conversation with their opinions to tell them what they are doing wrong. Instead, try to listen to understand, not to reply. Part of creating a safe place for interaction to happen is to keep James 1:19 in mind:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (NIV).
Deliberately use conversational cues that will help your teen to talk. When you get something from them, follow up with, “Tell me more about that.” Involve their problem solving skills by asking, “What are some ways this situation can get better?” By valuing their opinions, you are paving the way for them to listen to yours.
4. Your teen will talk if you value his or her feelings.
It is easy for us to dismiss our son or daughter’s feelings because we know the bigger picture of their lives. But telling them that “this won’t matter in a week” or "when I was your age..." won’t get you many communication points with them. Reach back and recall your teen years. Remember that those strong feelings about not making the team or not being chosen for homecoming are valid. Affirm their frame of mind with kindness and compassion.
BONUS: The Best Settings to Talk with Your Teenager
Communicating with your teens takes intentionality and purpose. Here are some places and times where you may want to capture some important conversations with your teenager:
1. The car. The road is an awesome place to find out more about what is going on in the life of your teen. 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.
2. On vacation. There is something great about being on vacation that helps everyone relax. Take advantage of the time with your teenager to build communication and trust. Use board games like “Beat the Parents” by Spin Master Games or “Talk-It-Out” by Gordon Greenhalgh for discussion starters. These aren’t Christian games, but they will help get discussions started.
3. The dinner table. Build communication traditions around the table. Around our table, we asked for everyone’s high of the day and everyone’s low. Another great starter is to ask each person to “Tell three things you did today and then tell how you felt about each of them.” Sunday lunch is a terrific place for everyone to share what they learned that morning in class or worship. If these are consistent times for the family to share about their day and feelings, it will be a natural springboard to other conversations.
If it’s hard for your teen to talk face-to-face, he or she may respond better to written communications. Place a notebook in a strategic location in the house where she and you can write notes to each other or try texting. This shouldn’t take the place of verbal communications or validate the overuse of smartphones, but instead provide a springboard for those conversations later on.
Whatever your method, it’s important to give each other space. The higher the emotions, the more likely communication will not be productive and helpful. If things are getting heated, take a time out—five minutes, five hours or even five days—and allow your teen time to process without your push. The “What were you thinking?” conversation will be much more pleasant when everyone has calmed down.
Above all, commit to the process. It may take a little bit of communication each day, but commit to working on communication for the long haul. If you have had lots of arguments and stress with your teen, start tomorrow as a brand new day and commit to rebuilding the relationship.
Lastly, choose your words carefully, realizing that your words are significant and impactful. Ephesians 4:29 says, “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” Use every opportunity to build up your son or daughter with words full of grace and truth.
Continue Reading: 10 Toxic Phrases that Parents Should Avoid
Article courtesy of Parenting Teens magazine.