How to Talk to a Teenager (and Know That They're Listening)
If you've got a child between the ages of 13 and 19 and feel
that having a two-way conversation with this teenager is often
painful, and often impossible, keep reading. There are ways
to break through what can seem like an insurmountable communication
gap. And if you're thinking about giving up, don't.
"Studies resoundingly show that a lack of parental support
and guidance is one of the primary causes for at-risk behavior
such as drinking, smoking, taking drugs and having unprotected
sex," says Dr. Michael Anastasi, a family counselor from
La Verne, Calif. "While there is certainly a balance
to be struck, it's absolutely imperative that parents go through
the struggle of keeping in touch with their teens and revising
their role as caregivers."
Even teens who say they want to be left along need
their parents attention.
Keep in mind that during the teen years, your child is developing
his or her own sense of identity. Teens may try to distance
themselves from their parents to do this, and the way you
react can make all the difference in having a healthy or destructive
Ask Questions, and be "Askable" Yourself
According to Ingrid Sanden, spokeswoman for the National
Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the single most important
thing a parent can do to stay in touch with their teen is
to be "askable."
"Talking early and often with kids about things like
relationships, sex and drugs may be hard, but children and
teenagers consistently say they would rather hear about sex
from their parents than from their friends or the media,"
As a parent, you should strive to ask your teen open-ended
questions. These are good for two reasons: 1. They can't be
answered with a yes or no, which your teen may be tempted
to use otherwise 2. They show that you are really interested
in finding out what your teen has to say.
Daniel F. Perkins, Ph.D., assistant professor, department
of family, youth and community sciences at the University
of Florida, says that if you ask closed-ended questions, you
limit the range of responses and suggest that you already
know what is going to be said.
Spend Time With Your Teen
Even though it may seem that the last thing your teenager
wants is to spend time with you, most teenagers look forward
to time spent one-on-one with their parents -- particularly
if you let your teen decide what you do.
The biggest factor in raising a successful teen is
"Teens today need more quality as well as quantity time,"
says Dr. Larry Jenson, Ph.D., who has taught parenting development
courses and workshops for more than 34 years. "Many experts
document this need but it seems that many believe that since
teens are more self sufficient they require less maintenance,
supervision or monitoring. Not so. In fact the best predictor
of positive outcomes for teens raised in high risk neighborhoods
is maternal supervision."
Simply asking your teen to go out to a movie or a special
dinner can strengthen your relationship and give you time
to talk, without feeling like talking is forced. Having family
dinners at least a few times a week is another great way to
spend time together--but make sure that you talk during the
dinner (not watch TV, etc.).
Be Respectful, Not Judgmental
A teen, like anyone, wants to feel respected. And if you're
too busy to talk to your teen while watching a TV program,
or only show interest in their lives on the weekends when
they go out, your teen will feel that you're not interested
in them. Likewise, if you dole out advice or make judgments
before you've heard what your teen has to say, they won't
feel like they're able to open up.
This also extends to your tone of voice and body language.
Make a real effort to listen to your teen in the respectful,
engaged way you'd want to be listened to.
"You need to work hard to be nonjudgmental. Certainly,
as a parent, you want to respond in an honest, helping and
counseling manner, but maybe it would be better to wait or
at least delay your response," says Dr. Jenson. "At
least wait until they are finished communicating what they
want to say. Then agree with all that is agreeable, but say
something like, 'There are some things you said that are troubling
to me,' 'I don't understand,' or 'Let me think about what
you said,' and 'We will continue this conversation later.'"
Empathize With Your Teen
Showing your teen that you understand situations they are
going through will make them more likely to open up to you
in the future. To do this, Perkins says, " ... You
must ignore your own, adult perception of the situation for
the moment and accept your teen's feelings, thoughts, and
ideas of the situation as yours."
Of course, this doesn't mean you have to agree with your
teen, just that you accept their thoughts and opinions. Over
time, each time you talk your conversations will get easier.
It's imperative that you let your teen know you're a real
person, that you, too, made and make mistakes, and that it's
OK to laugh at yourself sometimes. Tell your teen about your
own mishaps as a teenager, and use humor to lighten up situations
that are unnecessarily tense.
battles is also important, as pushing an unimportant issue
can push your teen away, rather than bring them closer.
"One of the things I found is that often if I tried
to push something too much, it became impossible. He shut
down. Boys especially, but all teenagers today like to feel
like they are in control," says single mother of three
teenagers, personal coach and director for the Center for
Successful Communities, Paula Dawidowicz.
Finally, if you're at your wits end and feel like your teen
just won't open up, keep in mind these three tips from Dr.
"If a parent listens first the teen will in turn be
more likely to listen. Second, make yourself useful or needed.
Parents have a lot to offer but teens need to know this. Third,
use humor where ever possible and begin by making the conversations
How to Most Effectively
"Pick Your Battles"
and Kids: The Untold Story of Why Autism has Become a Major
Today: Keeping Tabs on Your Teen
Today: Are You Listening to Me?
Today: Grunts, Snarls and Verbal Abuse
Listening: A Communication Tool