Judging by the title of this post, you could be led to believe that it’s not always easy to communicate with our teenagers. If it were, we wouldn’t need tips on how to do it!
I’m not an expert in this area. I’m definitely still learning what works and what doesn’t, partly because every teenager’s personality and communication style are a little different. Some teens are much more likely to share their thoughts and feelings, while it takes real strategizing to get another one to open up.
After parenting two teen daughters for quite a while now, I’ve found a few things that could be helpful. Choose a few to try the next time there’s a breakdown in communication!
1. Be available.
The other morning, our 19-year-old toasted a bagel for her breakfast and sat down in our kitchen to eat. Even though I’d already cleaned up the kitchen from my breakfast, I found something else to do in there so I’d be close by in case she wanted to talk.
We obviously don’t put our lives on hold waiting for our teen to speak to us, but conversations won’t happen if we’re not around. If we’re available when they get home from school or their job or when we know they’ll be hanging out near the fridge looking for something to eat, they might just want to talk to us.
(Where I totally fail is in the late-night talks. I’ve heard that many teens open up at the very end of their day, but I just don’t have the stamina to make it much past 10pm!)
2. Don’t ask a lot of questions.
This is somewhat dependent on a child’s personality. We have one daughter who doesn’t seem quite as annoyed by our questions as the other one does.
But we don’t want to come across as an interrogator. That’s been me when they come home from an event. “Who was there?” “What did you eat?” “What else did you do?” I’ve found that if I wait until later, much of that information will actually flow out in normal conversation.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions.
This goes a little bit against number two above, because in certain situations you do need to ask questions to get to the bottom of something. But be careful to hear your teen out. Be direct if you want to know what’s going on, rather than dancing around the subject. I’ve been guilty of this twice recently. You’d think I’d know better by now!
4. Give them a heads up if you’re going to have a difficult conversation.
Both of our daughters seem to appreciate it if I start an awkward or confrontational conversation by letting them know, in a calm voice, that there’s an issue we need to address.
I also try to use the sandwich principle – start and end with something positive. “Thank you for cleaning up after breakfast this morning” or “I appreciate how you’re getting your homework done on time” before launching into the discussion.
5. Don’t raise your voice.
I realize this is naturally easier for some people than others. We’ve never been a family who yells, so I’m not tempted to do this very often. As a teacher, I learned that if I made my voice quieter, usually the students did the same.
Stay calm even if your teen raises her voice. Increasing the volume doesn’t increase the chance of a positive outcome.
6. It’s okay to tell your teen how what she said made you feel.
If your teen says something hurtful, let her know about it…when things have calmed down. Usually, when she’s not caught up in the moment, she’ll realize she was out of line. And of course, apologize if you’ve said something unkind.
7. Figure out what their interests are, and learn enough to talk about them.
Our college daughter developed some new interests during her first year of college – like broom hockey. Maybe your teen has a favorite book series, sports team, or is developing a new hobby. Study up on the subject enough that you can carry on an intelligent conversation with them.
8. Actually listen to what they’re saying so that you can keep the conversation going.
Teens can get frustrated when you ask follow up questions that they’ve already covered in the initial conversation. It shows that you weren’t really listening to what they were saying.
9. Allow them to process their thoughts out loud.
We’ve had some interesting conversations around our supper table over the years. Sometimes teens will come out with crazy thoughts or random ideas. As adults, we can tend to shoot them down because we know it won’t work. But let them talk it out before trying to guide them to a reasonable conclusion.
10. Don’t use trite phrases to make them feel better.
Show empathy. Sometimes the best thing is to just sit with them in their pain. Whatever they’re going through may not get better, at least not for a while.
When our daughter found out last month that she was coming home from college for the rest of the semester, I needed to remember this. I needed to say things like, “I know this is hard. It’s not what you wanted.” At least at first, she needed to feel understood, not rushed to feel that everything was okay.
While I didn’t give this tip a number, it’s the most important one of all! Ask God for wisdom to help you know how best to communicate with your teen. The passcode on my phone continues to be a reference to James 1:5, to remind me that His wisdom is available for the asking.