The Art of Communicating With a Teen
Research conducted by Mission Australia in 2011 shows that 60% of teenagers still choose to talk to their parents about the issues that matter to them. However, most parents I share this statistic with wish their teenager spoke to them more often.
A report written by Dianne Mckard, PhD suggests that 85% of teenagers value their parents’ opinion about serious decisions, yet a quarter were unable to talk to their mother, and half of the girls and a third of the boys were unable to talk to their father.
My experience tells me this.
Teenagers can have a good relationship with their parents and not talk to them. They can believe their parents care about them and not talk to them. They can even want their parents’ opinion and not talk to them! Communication between parents and teenagers doesn't always come naturally and isn't a reflection of the love and care in a home. Maintaining a solid connection with teenagers is something that most parents have to work hard at.
It can be challenging to know how to talk to teenagers about sensitive topics (or any subject at all) when they have a ‘do not disturb’ sign on their door or they are convinced that you don’t understand. Parents can quickly lose their confidence if they see an eye roll or receive a blunt ‘whatever’.
Here are three strategies to help parents navigate these challenges, to maintain a strong bond with their teens.
The Magical Backdrop of Activity
No teenager likes to feel interrogated. Neither do they like to admit they need their parents. It can a fiercely independent stage of life. That is why when parents ‘try’ and talk to their child, it often goes nowhere. The trick is to not ‘try’ so hard. Communication is deal when it happens naturally.
One father told me that he would deliberately take his son out to chop wood in an attempt to get him to ‘open up’. They lived in country Victoria. He was concerned about his son’s lack of communication and found that trying to start conversations at home was leading nowhere. This wise father realised that by engaging his son in an activity, conversation was more likely to happen naturally. He also may have realised that physical activity releases ‘happy hormones’ that boost conversation.
However, wood chopping wasn’t a foolproof strategy. Sometimes his son said very little, and they drove in silence. Other times he brought a lot to the conversation. His father had to wait in the wings patiently. One thing his dad noticed was that he was always happier after they had been out together.
Your activity of choice might be walking the dog each night or going to sport together on Saturday morning. Spending regular time together doesn't ensure communication, but it does provide an opportunity for it. If you are there regularly, chances are they will talk to you when they need to.
Testing the Waters
Teenagers are going to want to talk to parents about different things than they did when they were children. The big question they have in their minds is - Will my parents be comfortable talking about these new things? Will they think I am weird or bad?
Young people ‘test the waters’ when it comes to communicating with parents. I remember a dad telling me that his daughter would always ask about 10 nothing questions before she asked the real question. He always knew that was just how she rolled. Another father told me that his son would just sit next to him and start watching the news with him. That wouldn’t happen any other time than when he wanted to talk. He started to realise that this was his “cue” to ask how his son’s day was.
You said WHAT?
The teenage years are a time of big, loud emotions and life altering changes. Accepting this, without wanting to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ them is really important. If every conversation is an intense one, dominated by correction or education, your teenager won't want to talk to you. Sometimes it is more appropriate to listen with your heart than to present a rebuttal speech.
We all return to meaningful, joy filled and affirming communication. That’s why my advice to parents is to try and keep on the fun side of the island. Take things lightly. Take yourself lightly. Keeping your sanity could be that simple. Remember that ‘I hate you’, usually means ‘I am annoyed right now’; and that 'leave me alone' is a phase that will pass just as surely as 13 will pass on their 14th birthday.
PS. Thank you for sharing. You never know the difference you could make to someone else’s life.
You can find more on this topic in my book 'What Teenage Girls Don’t Tell There Parents’ available from michellemitchell.org
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