When your son transitions from grade school into middle school and then teen years, he might begin to clam up and quit talking, especially about critical topics, such as bullying, substance abuse, sex and more. However, parents hope that during these years, teens will open up more about their struggles and the related feelings.
Despite concerns that your teens aren’t listening, take heart. The federal government reports that 38 percent of teens are most influenced by parents when it comes to making decisions about sex. In comparison, 22 percent say that friends have the strongest influence on these critical decisions. No matter the topic, your teen does hear what you say and respects your advice.
However, if you have likely tried a straightforward approach to holding a conversation, you might have felt like you were up against a brick wall. Every child’s personality differs. Instead, consider the following tips and “trick” your teen into having a real conversation.
Take Advantage of Life Situations
Whether it’s a popular TV show, movie, the news or situation in your community, start conversations with your teen about what relevant happenings. For example, the following situations might occur:
- A teen at your child’s school takes his life
- A teen needs to go to treatment
- A news report discusses bullying
- A classmate becomes pregnant
Or similar incidents that impact teens.
Ask your son what he thinks about what happened. If he clams up or hesitates to talk, then share your perspective, thoughts and feelings.
At the same time, your son might use these conversation openers to ask you an important question. Take the time to stop and answer his inquiries. This shows you value conversation with him and will encourage additional confidences. He will learn that you are available to discuss his concerns, no matter how small or large.
Teens often connect more easily with you when you aren’t having a face-to-face conversation. Take walks together, chat in the car or turn the lights down to take the pressure off some of the more difficult conversations.
Listen to conversations your child and his friends have in the car or when they are just hanging out. You will learn a lot from what they say. While he realizes you are present, he still might speak more freely than he would under other circumstances.
Ask Questions that Move Beyond Basic Answers
Ask your teen involved questions that move beyond simple answers, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ to in-depth responses. However, phrase questions carefully so that teens don’t feel that you are grilling them.
Remember the Importance of the Dinner Table
Do not minimize the dinner table as a safe place for deep conversations. Be open and frank about any topic so that he knows that you are available.
Spend Time Daily with Each Child
With the hectic pace of life, including school, homework and after-school activities, in addition to long hours at work for many parents, finding time to connect each day can be challenging at best. Comfortable rituals, such as taking time to sit and chat on the couch or eating a snack together, promote conversations even if they are on banal topics, such as the weather or what you plan to eat for dinner the following night. Any time that you can engage with your child will help you later connect on deeper levels when the subject is important.
Take Advantage of Electronics
Information from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicates that one-third of adolescents send more than 100 texts daily.
While they mainly text to stay connected with friends, parents can use electronics to your advantage and send them texts or messages to check in. For example, your teen will freely text you to ask for extra money or if he can go to a friend’s house. Use this to send a random text or message. Two simple examples include these: “Hey, I’m at the grocery store. Are there any snacks you want?” “Just thinking of you, have a great day.” Wish him or her luck on an important exam. Suggest a celebration after a big success, performance or achievement. These small interactions help you stay connected even when your schedule is crammed full of activities. In any case, your teen will sense your availability, which will open the door for conversations.
Go on “Dates” Together
In addition to daily time, you can also find activities that you and your teen especially enjoy doing together, such as going out to a movie, participating in a sport or recreation or other favorite past times. When your child knows that you have a pre-planned “date” approaching, he might be more willing to open up about key issues.
If you begin working to connect with your child when he is 13, you have started too late. Develop your relationship through fun activities and learned communication skills throughout his childhood.
Wait to Offer Advice
Let your son express himself and process through his feelings. Give him space to work out solutions on his own. As he solves his own problems, he will build self-confidence and realize that he can tackle larger obstacles as they arise. When he’s younger, you will need to suggest options, but as he matures, let him come up with his own solutions. Offer to provide guidance, brainstorm and make suggestions if he needs help. However, instead of dogmatically insisting that you know the right answer, you will want to offer options and let him weigh the benefits and disadvantages of each before deciding which one will work best. One parenting expert calls it duct taping your mouth closed so that your teen can shine.
Instead of talking and giving your opinion, listen to what your teen says. Keep asking gentle questions without seeming threatening. Think about tone and wording before you question him. If he hesitates, rephrase the question, ask him something else or mirror back what he just said.