Talking to teens can be like pulling teeth. Adolescents may find it hard to open up to their parents—whether it’s because they want to be independent, or they’re worried about being judged.
Communication is key to supporting your teen and strengthening the bond between the two of you. Not only will you better understand what they’re going through, you’ll learn more about their interests and passions—making it easier for when you do need to have a tough discussion. As professionals who deal with teens on a regular basis, counselors can offer useful guidance on improving communication. Here are six tips they offer for you to connect with your teen.
Find the Right Time
The American Psychological Association (APA) advises parents to pay attention to when their child is most open to talking. These times might include car trips or dinnertime, when you’re both together and you’re not preoccupied with a serious task at hand.
Initiate the Conversation
Start the conversation with something you’ve been thinking about, as opposed to a question or accusation. If you begin by pointing out something they’ve done wrong, your teen will be more likely to be defensive and less willing to talk. Adolescent Counseling Servicesrecommends that parents approach subjects like chores, rudeness or missing curfew in a calm manner, with a focus on compromise and solutions. ACS counselors also suggest using hypothetical scenarios from television as a starting point for tough topics.
Keep an Open Mind
You might not want to hear what your teen has to say, but as Mindsoother Therapy Center suggests, it’s important to keep an open mindand listen to your teen. It can be very emotional for both parent and child when discussing heavy topics or resolving conflict. Remember to let them finish sharing their point of view before offering your response. Be careful with expressing an extreme reaction; if you show anger, your teen will feel judged and be less inclined to keep talking. Parents and teenagers don’t always have to agree as long as they’re respectful of the other person’s opinion.
Try putting yourself in your teen’s shoes to understand their situation. Even if you don’t understand their reasons for feeling a certain way, your effort to empathize will have a positive effect on your teen’s response. Empowering Parents recommends that parents not be discouraged by any disconnect between them and their teen. If your child is emotionally distant, remember that striving for independence is a natural part of growing up that everyone goes through—yourself included.
Validate Their Thoughts
When your teen confides something in you, they’re not always looking for you to offer a fix. It could be that they just want you to listen to them and validate their feelings. As suggested by Lutherwood’s mental health centre, you can take a supportive stance by avoiding negative reactions (e.g. eye rolling and sighing) and acknowledging their perspective with a thoughtful response.
Your job isn’t over once the conversation is done. If you come up with a solution together, follow through to help achieve the goals both of you have set—whether they’ve asked you to remind them to do their homework, or you’ve promised not to press them about a certain chore. These post-conversation actions are crucial because they build trust between you and your teen, and your teen will see that you value their needs and opinions.
Just listening can go a long way in building your relationship with your teen. Don’t be intimidated to engage them in serious conversations. That way, when it comes to anything from everyday frustrations to mental health issues, you’ll be able to talk it out together.
Feature Image: Alex Ortlieb