Getting a tween or teen to trust you enough to open up and share their inner life can be a challenge.
But a big secret is that they wish you were the one they could talk to the most. So what holds them back?
Usually it’s that they worry you are going to judge them, tell them what to do, chastise them, or downplay their experiences.
As parents, we don’t often realize how much our efforts to help them by sharing our wisdom, or trying to protect them from pain, or to lessen their heartbreak can come across as actually shutting them down.
Here’s how to turn it all around:
Tip #1: Invite instead of instruct!
When you invite your teen to share in a conversation with you, you are saying “I care about your thoughts and perspectives and we are in this together” it is a much more effective way of imparting any wisdom you have. Tw/eens are more likely to listen to you when they feel listened to.
Sadly, even though sometimes we DO know best, telling them what to think, feel, and do, even if you are right and it would save them pain in the long run, simply may not get you the results you hope for. They may actively decide against your ideas simply because they felt you were telling them what to do and not supporting them in figuring it out for themselves.
What if they refuse to have a chat? Let them know that’s ok, and that you’ll wait and always be there when they are ready. Sure they may say you will be waiting forever – but if you let them know they are worth your time to wait, then sure enough they will come to you when in need.
Tip #2: Listen to understand, not just to know when to talk next.
When your teen speaks it is high time to check yourself to ensure you are actually listening, and non-judgementally at that! We all know these moments can be so rare, so we really don’t want to miss the moment and opportunity for connection.
They are opening the door just a crack to let you into their life and if you try and yell through it or pry it open further you know that it will be slammed shut just as fast!
What happens if they share a story and you start realizing “uh oh, this is not ok”?
Instead of going into a lecture, let them know they are still learning and mistakes will happen, that you love them and are there for them no matter what.
A few strategic questions like “How do you feel about what happened?” don’t hurt either. Sometimes teens share stories because they don’t know how to make sense of what happened and they are actually gauging your reaction. Asking them how they feel enables them to build up personal insight that can help guide them in making healthy decisions in the future.
A teen that opens up to you and isn’t blasted for it is much much more likely to continue to come to you for every issue big and small. That is a teen that trusts you will be there for them and will be able to guide them.
The more a teen trusts you to listen, the more a teen will share and then will actually use, the advice that you share with them.