Summer is over and school is back in session! (Although here in the South, we’re still in the high 90’s and feeling nowhere near fall-like!) And our teens, like it or not, are back in the routine of middle or high school. Backpacks have been broken in, lunchboxes/headphones/power cords/permission slips have already been lost (and hopefully found) and afterschool activities and clubs are in full swing. So, are your kids coming home and filling you in on all the little details that make up their days—other than the lost stuff, I mean?
When my kids were younger, they bubbled over with information and excitement, offering a detailed play-by-play of everything that happened from what was served in the lunchroom to who they played with on the playground. I loved all the details! It made me feel like I was a part of their day. But when they got to be teenagers? Not so much. I felt like there were times when I had to channel my inner investigative reporter to pry information out of them.
In addition to having two teenagers of my own, I’ve interviewed and surveyed about 3,000 of them for For Parents Only and other books, and discovered that the condition homo teenagesapiens silenticus (otherwise known as “being a teenager who is uninformatively silent”) affects many members of the adolescent species. And often times, their silence is most impenetrable when we most want them to share!
But I’ve also discovered that there is a way to crack open the floodgate of words. Actually, there are lots of ways… more than we can cover here. But two crucial tactics make a huge difference overall. Without them, it will be harder for any other efforts to work. With them, you have a much greater chance of hearing what’s in your child’s heart, now and over time.
No matter how aloof your teen seems to be, remember that they want you to be part of their lives—and do the work to get there.
The teens told me that they secretly wanted their parents to be a part of their world. They would never say that out loud, of course! But almost all (94%) said that if they could wave a magic wand, the perfect situation would be one in which their parents actively made an effort to be involved with them.
I heard hundreds of examples of what that could look like—anything from regularly texting about their day to a willingness to play video games with them (“especially when I know gaming isn’t really my mom’s thing!”). But there was a clear common denominator: we need to reach out to them. We have to insert ourselves into their life, their world, their way of doing things, rather than expecting them to jump into ours. If your 13-year-old daughter communicates with her friends primarily via social media apps and text, then make a point of reaching out to her that way. If your 17-year-old son always has on a pair of headphones, listening to music, ask him to let you know when he gets to one of his favorite songs so you can listen in.
Even if your relationship with your teen is difficult right now, these efforts can pay big dividends later. One teenage boy described years of poor life choices and how his parents always showed they were there for him, no matter what. As a result, he realized, “I need my parents. I need their assurance, their backup, their support.” He also realized something else I heard from many kids, “[And] because they’ve been there, I can talk with them about anything.”
No matter what you hear from your teen, remain completely calm.
Our kids often self-censor the “real” things they might otherwise share, depending on what they expect our reaction will be. There’s a very real twitchiness about whether Mom or Dad will freak out. And “freaking out,” by the way, includes not just a parent’s negative reactions, but overly energetic positive ones. So while cheering her great shot on goal is fine, excitedly saying “What an awesome idea!” about her plans to organize a picnic before prom is not. In other words: freaking out is any obvious display of emotion during a conversation.
Thus, one of the most crucial tools in your “how to get your teen to talk” toolbox is your ultra-calm demeanor. No matter what you hear from your daughter about her best friend driving drunk, or from your son about how cruel the basketball coach was to him, keep your voice level and your facial expressions in the “politely interested” to “politely concerned” range. No one expects us to be robots. But if you can keep “politely concerned” on your face (even though you want to rage about the coach instead), your son is far more likely to share about what happens at practice tomorrow. And the next day. And pretty soon, you’ve built a habit between you, of him sharing more and more of what is going on. Because he knows what to expect from you and that it‘s safe to share.
Of course we want our kids to share with us. And on their side, though it might not be apparent to us, they do want to share. Try these two tactics to get the conversation going, and see how it creates a win-win for everyone—giving your kids an opportunity to share more openly, and helping you enter their world and know their heart.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.