Often, attempting to communicate with your teen can feel like trying to pull teeth, walking on eggshells, herding cats, walking the tightrope, or any other number of tried and true sayings. You may feel as though you’ve put in a repeated good-faith effort to get him to open up and share his emotions with you, only to be met by a stony silence or, worse, an angry teen or explosive reaction.
Many parents find that their teens have a tendency to shut them out — and it’s a frustrating situation. You may feel as though you’re growing apart and wish you knew exactly how to reconnect.
These tips will help you open the lines of communication and connect with your teen.
Shift Your Mindset
Start by recognizing — and doing your best to accept — that you and teen live in two very different worlds. For instance, in your world, spending all that time spent online or texting with friends is taking away from value study time that he needs to get better grades and improve his chances for future success. But to your teen, his interactions with peers takes top priority; in his world, finding out what that girl said to his friend about him in the hall at school is much more important than passing tomorrow’s math test.
Right or wrong, that’s the reality of it — and it’s a part of your teen’s progression toward independence. While you’ve got the years and experience to know better, he doesn’t yet… but he’s still going to develop his own beliefs, ideas and values about what’s best for him in the present situation.
Bridge this gulf by starting conversations with your teen from a place of understanding. You may not agree with his ideas, but it’s important to at least attempt to put yourself in his shoes. That empathy will make it easier for you to truly listen to his perspective before you tell him what needs to be done.
Cool Off First
Feeling frustrated at his lack of communication? Then now’s not the time to confront him about his lack of communication! Instead, take a breather and give yourself time to calm down. By taking the emotion out of the interaction, you’re not only reducing the chances of a blow-up, you’re also modeling good communication strategies to your teen.
Before you talk to your teen, do a thought experiment. Imagine yourself listening to his point of view without getting angry. If you can accomplish this, go ahead and start a conversation. If you can’t, then wait it out.
Write it Down
When there’s a difficult conversation looming in the future, take the time to write down the three or four most important points you want to make. These should take the form of things you want your teen to understand, but there’s a catch: Write down what’s important to you without using your teen in the statement.
For example, “I need to feel respected” rather than “You need to respect me!”
Know When to Stop Talking
As a general rule, you should spend twice as much time listening as you do talking, otherwise known as the “two ears, one mouth” rule. An easy way to remember this is to say half of what you’d normally say.
Think back to when your parents lectured you. Did you enjoy it? Did it seem endless? Did you truly listen and take their advice to heart, or did you tune them out? Regardless of who’s in the right, your teen doesn’t want to be lectured or talked down too — in fact, no-one does. You probably didn’t like it when you were a teen, either. Make a conscious effort to listen, rather than speak.
While these techniques may not come naturally, they can go a long way toward improving the lines of communication between you and your teen.