How to Talk to Teens…Don’t!

Most parents like to talk to their kids. This may have started out with the baby boomers who grew up largely in homes with parents who didn’t talk at all. Today, we have swung the other way, and maybe to an extreme. I meet parents very often who tell me their teenagers want them to shut up. Only they say “Leave me alone!” But they don’t say it that politely. Anyway, you get the idea.

Many of today’s teenagers look something like this:

annoyed teenagerIt can be hard to get their attention. This can be enormously frustrating for parents, who often find themselves in this position:

mother with bullhorn

And that is even more infuriating. So, what are we doing wrong?

  • Lecturing: First, no one likes to be lectured. I find that this is the most common mistake parents of teenagers make. To our credit, we parents want so much to spare our teenagers from making mistakes that we try to bombard them with information, sort of as a preventative measure. Let me assure you, this works in certain areas. Please continue to tell your teens about the dangers of drunk driving, drugs and alcohol, swimming alone, wearing a seatbelt, using a condom and playing with matches. But please let’s limit the lecture series to issues of personal safety.
  • Talking instead of sharing: While we tend to think of ourselves tuning out our own parents when they started in with “well, when I was 15…” that was usually due to the Father Knows Best tone of the conversation. That’s not the case now, and your teen probably does want to know if can understand him, and if you’ve shared her experiences. See the next point.
  • Saying you know better: Your goal in talking to your teen should be learning about them. If your goal is putting them in their place, i.e. beneath you, then you are well on your way to alienating them. Step down from the pulpit of I know better — which you probably do — and try to talk in a way that opens up the conversation rather than shutting it down.
  • Filling the silence: If you have the opportunity to be quiet with your teenager, do that. Silence likes to be filled, and they might just start talking if you create some space for it.

A colleague of mine told me recently she was treating a teenage boy, and in a session with the parents he blurted out “Can you please tell them to only talk to me on weekends?”

I love this story because it confirms for me what I believe about teenagers: whether we want to hear it or not, they are always telling us their truth. Let’s listen.  When we allow our teenagers to feel heard, they are far more likely to talk to us.
happy family

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