Parents often lament that their teenagers never seem to hear what they are saying. They remark that their teens have an innate ability to tune out parents’ voices and attempts to strike up even the most cordial of conversations.
As frustrating as it can be to engage your children in mutual discussion, it is important that you never stop trying and avoid cutting off communication altogether. You can keep the lines of communication open by using these tactics to start a conversation with your teenager.
Teens often avoid talking with their parents because they fear a confrontation about something that they are perceived to be doing wrong. You might find everything that your teen is doing to be wrong or questionable by your standards. However, you cannot use this perception as a tool if you want to start a meaningful conversation with your son or daughter.
You should instead withhold judgment and resist confronting your teen when you start a conversation with him or her. You could start the talk with an open-ended question to entice an answer on which to build the rest of the discussion. When your teen senses that he or she will be not become embroiled in a battle of words, he or she might be more open to speaking with you.
Maintain Eye Contact
Your teenager may be less open to you if he or she senses that you are not really interested in what is being said. If you look away, focus on your phone, or handle other tasks while speaking with your child, you are less likely to start a conversation off right and more apt to end it prematurely.
Instead, you should take time out of your schedule, sit down, and maintain eye contact with your teenager. Direct eye contact conveys your interest in the conversation and also demonstrates that you genuinely care about what is being said.
Start a Conversation on a Common Interest
As different as you and your teenager may seem, chances are that you share at least one common interest. Whether you start off by talking about your shared favorite sports team or your favorite meal, you can use this common interest to level the field between you and your child and set a foundation upon which a meaningful exchange can be built.
It also makes you appear to be less judgmental and confrontational about the topic at hand. It draws in your teen and helps keep him or her there while you broach the subject about which you want to talk.
Hold Your Position as the Parent
The point of having meaningful talks with your teenager is not to become his or her friend or submit your position of authority as the parent. In fact, you should make it clear that you are the parent and not a friend and that the conversation is an attempt to exchange or gain important information from your son or daughter.
It can be tempting to let your guard down and take on a secondary role in the conversation in order to get details you want to know. However, you should not let your teen get the upper hand and control the flow of the discussion. You are in charge, and you have the most power to maintain in what direction the talk is headed.
Emphasize Your Parental Love
Maintaining your role as a parent does not mean that you have to forgo expressions of love for your child. Talking with a parent about any topic let alone one of utmost importance can be a challenge for many teens who are left to their own devices all day. They do not want to be judged or treated like infants. They also do not want to worry that they will forfeit your love for them.
As such, you should reiterate often throughout the talk that you love your son or daughter unconditionally regardless of what is being said. The information you glean from the talk might disappoint or shock you. Nonetheless, you should still make it clear that you love your child unconditionally.
As noted, teens are likely to forgo a conversation with parents if they believe that their moms or dads are not really listening. They want to know that you are fully checked into the discussion and not only half hearing what they are saying.
You should demonstrate that you are listening by:
- asking questions
- repeating key pieces of information
- agreeing or disagreeing with topics as they arise
This mutual relay of conversation shows that you are plugged into what is being said and understanding everything about which your teen is speaking. It also shows that you are formulating your own opinions about it and have insight that you are willing to share with your child.
As a parent of a teenager, it can be very tempting to fly off the proverbial handle to what you are hearing in the conversation with your child. You might rush to judgment or be prepared to inflict harsh punishments for actions or words that your child has chosen.
However, it is important that you gauge your reaction to ensure it meets the severity of any perceived infraction that has taken place. You must realize that your teen may have found it hard to disclose those details to you and is looking to you for reassurance and guidance rather than punishment. You may even ask your child what kind of reaction you are expected to have and base any discipline in part off of this input.
These tips to help start a conversation with your teen can put you in a more neutral and approachable position and make the upcoming talk less scary. Teens are often reluctant to share any information with parents and instead seem to tune out the voices of their moms or dads. These measures can get the discussion started and help you formulate the best reactions to anything your child might tell you during the ensuing talk.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.