Opening lines of communication with your teen

Teens don’t easily open about what is going on in their lives. However, open communication with teens is a vital part of their relationship with you and is a key factor in your ability to support them. Here are some tips adapted from Time Magazine about improving parent-child communication.

Create talking rituals: Pay attention to whether your teen is more talkative in the morning or after they get home from school. Then, designate 15 minutes out of every day during that time where you can sit and talk about important things going on in both of your lives.

Be a person: Give them your full attention.  Discuss how you feel about what they shared. Genuinely responding to your teen will make them more likely to open up more.

Ask questions about the details behind the stories: This encourages your teen to think about and acknowledge the emotions they are feeling. This will help your teen learn to solve problems by being able to articulate and describe them.

You count, too: Talking about yourself, perhaps how their story reminded you of something similar that you or a family member or friend went through will encourage your teen to talk about themselves. They may not listen to the whole story, but it is important to model the behavior of sharing if you expect them to share too. You don’t have to share all the details of your teenage relationships but giving them a gentle reminder that you’ve been through it too can help them feel more comfortable opening up. It can normalize experiences and let them know they are not alone and isolated.

Give advice: After your teen shares a story, discuss together what they should do next. Begin with, “I know my experience isn’t anything like yours, things are very different now, but if I were in your shoes I would think about doing X or saying Y” What do you think about that? Also, it may be hard for a teen to “hear” or “act on” advice given by a parent or caregiver. It may be helpful if you can identify a trusted adult relative or friend that shares your values. Have your teen go to this person as well as another source of advice and support…or if they are not easily accessible, say, “If Aunt Jean was in this situation, I think she would say X or do Y …”

Don’t be surprised if your teen acts nonchalant or as if they are not taking everything in that you say. That may just be their outward appearance. They are excellent actors and actresses! Inside they may be processing the information and deciding how they will respond. Many times, we hear from parents how their teens will tell them how much they appreciated their advice …many years later when they have kids of their own!

The other strategy to consider is writing regular notes to your teen. Sometimes it is hard to find the right words in a face-to-face conversation, or your teen may not be “ready” to listen. Writing a short note or finding an article and leaving it on their pillow might accomplish the goal of providing information and support at a time when they may be more receptive. Don’t be afraid of using technology either. Sometimes a quick text can do the trick. Regardless of what you decide to do, keep trying, until you find the right set of strategies that work for you.