Talking to teens. It can be one of the most insightful, engaging, and rewarding things you do as a parent. It is also one of the hardest. Teens lead vibrant (yet complicated) inner and social lives. Between their cellphone, Netflix, social media, and general reluctance to associate with their parents, it can be hard to catch their attention for long, if at all.
Here are 5 ways to get even the most reluctant teen to open up (and one thing to avoid unless you want to send them running):
1. Talk about neutral things first.
It’s better to have an open conversation about a less important topic than it is to force a difficult conversation and shut them down for good. So before you dive into that tricky subject, grease the wheels a bit and get the conversation flowing with something that interests them. Want more information on how to set the stage for uncomfortable conversation? Check out our article here.
2. Have group conversations instead of one on one.
Researchers know they get more information out of a focus group since participants bounce things off one another. I’m sure you’ve seen this in action when you overhear your teen chatting with a group of friends and everyone chimes in with “OMG, ME TOO”. Whether it’s with a group of friends, a few teammates, or at the dinner table, try asking a question to the entire group and taking turns offering perspectives. This way no one feels on the spot (even if you are hoping that the conversation resonates a little more for one of your children…). Remember, listen without judgement. This is a time to create dialogue, not a time to scold, critique or offer follow up.
3. Ask your teen for a wish or prayer request.
If you’re religious, ask for a prayer request. If you aren’t religious, say, “I’m making wishes tonight. Is there a wish that you would like me to put to the universe on your behalf?” Or try, “if I had a magic wand, what is one thing I could wish for to make tomorrow awesome for you?” You may be surprised to find out what’s been going on for your teen.
4. Be genuine and open up from the heart.
There is no need to always be a professional parent. How would you listen and converse with a dear friend? Afford your teen that same quality connection. Bonding with them will produce far better outcomes than instructing them on how to live well. Teens often feel parents are trying to police them. A conversation without an agenda is a breath of fresh air for you both.
5. Apologize when you screw up.
Have you met a perfect parent? I haven’t. A sign of respect for your teen is that you are willing to admit it when you were at fault or caused hurt. It is much more likely that they will then follow your example when they screw up. This teaches them that messing up is human and that they are loved and accepted unconditionally. Want more advice on how to apologize without losing the upper hand? Read our article here.
And the one thing you should never do?
Say the dreaded words, “Let’s talk.” Those words are felt to mean bad news is coming, or this is going to feel unpleasant. No matter how innocent your intentions, it is more effective to say, “I’d love to connect more. Are there topics you enjoy talking about that you could teach me, or activities we could do together?”
Stating your desire to connect without pressuring them to open up is a delicate balance but you can achieve it if you show genuine interest in your teen’s life without imposing too much of your own agenda.
The key to talking with teens is to ask questions and remain curious. They need a safe space to grow and make mistakes. They want connection as much as you do, but can be afraid of losing their identity or being policed if they open up too much. They stay behind closed doors so they can explore who they are without censure. If you want to open those doors (literally and figuratively), remember to ask and be interested. Over time, they will engage and reveal themselves more and more because they know you have created a safe space for them to be themselves.
Have you tried any of these strategies? What has worked for you? We’d love for you to share in our community.