By Michele Borba
A 2005 survey of over 1000 teens found that 35 percent gave their parents poor grades (D’s or F’s) for listening. In today’s even faster-pace, hurried world I’m betting our kids would give us even lower grades. The fact is those teen years are difficult. And our treadmill-like existences (and a teens’ plugged-in world) can make the art of listening difficult. And then there’s the added fact that those teen years aren’t always the easiest. Many parents compare home life with a teen like walking on eggshells or an open mine field. So here are tips on how to talk to teens from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, so they’re more likely to open up, be less defiant, and not shut down during these critical ages.
Give your full presence. It helps your teen know you’re focusing on him. Put the phone on voice mail. Forget the laundry. Put your attention on your teen. Whenever a teen starts to talk, stop what you’re doing then listen, listen, listen.
Use the One-Minute Rule. Don’t talk longer than one minute. Lengthy one-sided talks come off as a “lecture” to a teen (a real turn off).
Honor silence. Count to two-or three. Wait three seconds if there’s a void and don’t jump in to fill in the silence. Teens need time to process what you’ve said.
Sit side by side. Don’t stand when talking: sit. A teen is more likely to open up if you’re not towering over him. And boys in particular are often less threatened if you sit side by side instead of face to face. (Tip: Take advantage of those car rides!)
Halt the criticism. Coming off like a prosecutor is guaranteed to turn off a teen. So teach yourself to halt those critical statements. Whenever you feel a judgmental comment coming on replace it with: “Tell me more. What makes you say that? What makes you say that? Really? Count to two before responding. Or just bite your tongue.
Talk while doing something. Some teens (particularly boys) are more responsive to talking when they are doing something active. So find active things your teen likes to do (drawing, shooting baskets, lifting weight), and talk then. You just may find your teen is more open to talking.
Recognize your teen’s “biological clock.” The body’s internal clock, which control when a person starts to feel tired, shifts after puberty making it hard for most teens to fall asleep before 11 pm. Identify the time zone when your teen is most receptive to talking and be there. A teen’s least receptive time: first thing in the morning (they’re tired and groggy). The second worst time: walking in after school (they’re usually stressed and exhausted).
Talk about your teen’s interests. Try tailoring your conversation around your teen’s interests: her CD collection, his baseball cards. It might be a great entrée to what’s really going on in her life. If you really consider yourself “not with it” then peruse a current teen magazine–such as Seventeen, Teen People, CosmoGirl–and casually bring up “So what do you think about the Jonas’ Brothers’ concert?”
Use technology! Have her teach you how to text and then send text messages to each other. Ask your teen to show you how to load your ipod. Get in their world!
Go to your teen’s zone. If you want some one-on-one talking time with your kid, then go to a place your teen enjoys: a mall, the batting cage, the golf range, Starbucks. Chances are she will be more relaxed because she’s in her territory and just might be more likely to open up.
Find a common connector. And I mean any connector! If she likes yoga, do it together. If he likes football, watch the game together. If she loves to read, start a book club with her friends and their moms. If he loves CSI, be ready with the popcorn once a week and let him think you love it, too.
Hold and evening “meet and greet.” Don’t let your teen’s activity schedule stand in the way of connecting. Find a time such at 9:30 pm when the family stops and meets in the kitchen for five minutes to reconnect. Ask about their schedule and any needs. Find out how their day went. Give a snack and a back rub.
Don’t Give Up – EVER! If you need to communicate via a white board or post-its, do it! Keep showing up and letting your teen know you’re there for him. Remember, in just a few years that teen will be gone.
For daily parenting solutions follow Michele on twitter @micheleborba