How Parents Can Encourage Their Teens to Talk to Them
How Parents Can Encourage Their Teens to Talk to Them
1. Validate their feelings. Teens are used to adults undervaluing their emotions. Adults are cognitively able to differentiate themselves from their outside circumstances whereas teens don’t have that ability. Cognitively, a teen’s brain is focused on what others think about them, what others are doing. Developmentally, what others think and do is extremely important to teens and has a large emotional impact on them. Instead of disqualifying their big feelings or the source of their feelings, listen to them and remember that the way they see the world is true for them. Understand that just because they are upset over something that seems silly to you, doesn’t mean it’s silly to them. By listening to and acknowledging their experiences and feelings as the truth and important, they feel respected and heard. It’s a small shift that can make all the difference for your teen or preteen. Making this shift in how you accept your teen’s experiences and feelings as real for them encourages them to share more with you because they feel that you listen to understand them.
2. Talk at their developmental level. Often we expect teens to take on the responsibility, language, and behavior of adults because that is a part of preparing them for adulthood. However, equipped with the knowledge that a teen’s brain is not fully developed like that of an adult, (age 25 or older,) we can adjust how to speak to our teens. Expecting them to easily grasp adult concepts isn’t entirely realistic. Instead, try talking to them at their developmental level. Talking to your teen using words they understand and metaphors that resonate with them can help improve effective communication with your teen to ensure they fully understand.
3. Ask meaningful questions. When we enter a conversation with a teen without being prepared, we often get lackluster responses. But, prepared with intentional questions that lead the conversation in a fruitful way, you can change the entire outcome of the conversation. Intentional questions come from paying attention to your teen’s friends, hobbies, and interests and keeping nuggets of information to follow up on later. See the following example:
Conversation 1- Unprepared Adult
Adult- “How was school today?”
Adult- “What do you mean by fine?”
Teen- “I don’t know. It wasn’t good or bad. It was just fine.”
Adult- “Did you learn anything new?”
Teen- “Not really.”
In this conversation, the teen isn’t giving the parent much to work with. They are answering the question unenthusiastically, probably wondering what the point of the conversation is. Remember, just like work can be monotonous for adults, school can be monotonous for teens. Asking a teen about school on a daily basis can leave little room for meaningful conversation to evolve from their answers. Here's an example conversation that's led with intentional questions:
Conversation 2- Prepared Adult Asking Intentional Questions
Adult- “Hey, have you talked to XYZ (teen’s best friend) lately?”
Teen- “A little bit, today. Why?”
Adult- “Well I know you guys like to do something together every Halloween. I thought maybe you could have a Halloween movie marathon together this year. I’d love to watch my favorite Halloween movie with you and you guys could share your favorite with me, too.”
Teen- “Oh. Maybe, I hadn’t thought about it.”
Adult- “It would be a lot of fun. I’ll even buy Sour Patch Kids and popcorn (name your teen’s favorite snack) for the movie marathon. Why don’t you ask XYZ and see if they’re interested.”
Teen- “That could be fun, thanks mom/dad. I’ll ask XYZ if they can come over next Friday.”
This conversation was a lot more fruitful because the parent, armed with knowledge about their teen (their best friend’s name, a tradition they usually do with a friend, their teen’s favorite snack, etc), was able to direct the conversation to a topic the teen was likely to be interested in. The best part is that conversations like this are just the starting point. This exchange was beneficial but it will be even more beneficial when you share your favorite movie with your teen because then you’ve created another talking point or future conversation starter with them. Creating opportunities like this will help create more fulfilling conversations between you and your teen in the future and will also let your teen know that you pay attention to and value the things that are important to them. And valuing your teen’s interest is a huge step towards having something to talk to them about where they actually want to respond and talk too. Being prepared with conversation topics that are important to your unique teen will encourage your teen to start and participate in more meaningful conversations with you.
4. Keep trying. Teens aren’t always going to want to talk with their parents, sometimes they need to be alone or just want to talk to their friends. But if you keep showing interest, and keep opening new opportunities for your teen to participate in conversations with you, they will know the door is open when they do want to talk. It’s all about resilience and perseverance. You’re here reading this resource, which shows you’re already on the right track, trying to improve communication with your teen. Keep trying and know that all you can do is your best. After that, it’s up to them to take you up on your conversational attempts. Whether or not they choose to have a meaningful conversation with you, seeing your perseverance and continued interest will encourage them and help them feel supported and valued when the time comes and they do want or need to talk.