How to Get Your Teen to Talk to You
As a licensed professional counselor, I am frequently asked the question, “How do I get my teenage daughter/son to talk to me?” As a mother of two teenage girls and a pre-teen boy, I deal with this myself, as well. What I have learned, both in my practice and in my personal experiences, is that children just want to he heard… much like adults do.
As parents, we are supposed to teach our children about life, teach them right from wrong, how to navigate peer pressure. We want to shield and protect them from making the same mistakes we did, or just from making mistakes in general. We don’t want them to have a hard time. We try to give them our wisdom, so that they will navigate life in the best way possible.
Often parents will say that when their child became a teenager, they changed. They may say, “When Susie became a teenager she stopped talking me.” True, children do change in various ways as they get older, however there are things that we as parents do, that don’t help things. This came as a rude awakening for me one day in the car when one of my girls was telling me about her day. I, of course, began giving my invaluable opinion on the situation she shared with me, when she suddenly said, “Why do you always have to make everything a life lesson? It makes me not even want to talk to you…” Whoa… that woke me up! It also opened up a dialogue between my daughter and me, so that I could learn from her, how I can help her WANT to talk to me about her life.
It really made me think… if I were talking to my own mother, or even a friend and they always tried to tell me what I was doing wrong, critiquing me, correcting how I had handled a situation, or even how my friends had handled a situation, would I want to share things with that person… For me, the answer was NO! It also made me begin to take note of teenage clients of mine, and their relationships with their parents… It seemed there was a consensus among all teens I was involved with. Much like adults, teens just want to be HEARD.
Of course, as parents, we can’t just not correct or discipline because it’s our responsibility to do so. However, there are things we can do to help open up the lines of communication with our children.
- Make sure you are approachable by providing a safe environment for your child to come to you – be aware of your mood, body language, demeanor by asking yourself – Are you easy to talk to? Are you snappy or annoyed when your child approaches you, due to work or other stressors?
- Give your undivided attention. I’m not saying that we always need to drop everything and have a conversation. However, when your child approaches you, making eye contact let’s them know you are present and available. If you can’t stop what you’re doing right then, you could say something like, “I really want to hear what you have say, so when I get this done in 20 minutes, I’ll come find you.” Then do it! Don’t forget to go back and find them.
- Validate their feelings and don’t turn everything into a “life lesson.” Sometimes just listening and validating someone is enough. Remember, children want to be heard. We don’t like it when our kids are upset, or being dramatic, so we try to minimize their feelings. Instead of telling Susie, “That’s nothing to be upset about,” or “Well, what you should have done was X, Y, Z…,” you could say something like, “It sounds like that really hurt your feelings. I’m sorry that happened.” Sometimes it is best, to go back later to discuss your concerns. Pay attention to your child. You can probably tell if they are going to receive your “criticism” in that moment or not. If you don’t time your corrections appropriately, they may just tune you out. Then you’ve wasted your “life lesson” at that point
- Give direction without belittling them. Belittling causes children (and adults) to become angry and discouraged. In Ephesians 6:4 Paul writes “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ultimately, we are called to discipline our children with love. This helps them understand what Christ’s love is like.
Ultimately, it takes lots of patience to be a parent and in our busy world, patience can be difficult to attain. However, learning to be approachable and learning to be a good listener is worth it to have your teen talk to you and let you into their world.
Rita Dickson, LPC