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How to Talk to Your Teen

When 100 teens were asked, “what are your goals for therapy?”, more than 75% of their responses were, “to build my parents trust back, for my parents to hear me out, and to make better decisions.” Each response was given to make their parents proud.

Your teen actually wants to build a relationship and be liked (not loved, there’s a difference) by you. They also mentioned that they don’t mind, or better said, they understand your reason for punishment or disappointment. But they also included wanting to share their perspective on the situation. Your teen is hoping for you to talk with them, not to them. Here are some quick tips to help you rebuild your relationship with your child.

Ask questions.

mother and daughters posing

I don’t mean the dreading ‘why’ questions; ‘Why did you or didn’t do that’. I’m talking about the ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions. I like to call these the curious questions. Times have changed since you were a teenager. The ways you used to communicate with your parent(s) are very different now – you can’t just ‘give them the look’ anymore. Asking questions with certain assumptions in mind can lead to arguments with your teen.

You must ask curious questions. Play stupid but not too stupid – your teen will snoop it out.

It’s like that dreading assignment your boss assigned to you and you didn’t understand. You asked a series of questions with caution, curiosity, and not seeming like a know-it-all. Questions that assured your boss that you understood part of the assignment but didn’t know how to bring it all together. Just as you approached your boss, you want to have a series of cautious and curious questions already in mind before speaking to your teen.

For example, your teenager may be struggling with building and maintaining friendships. As a teenager, you remember winning the superlative award for ‘life of the party’, so you know exactly what your teen needs to do to gain friends. However, this is not the time to drop ‘friendship wisdom’ instead, you want to ask questions about what it is like for your teen.

Some examples of cautious and curious questions are:

  • What would you rather do?
  • How do you feel about (insert situation)?
  • What do you think about (insert topic)?
  • Which teacher is your favorite? How come?
  • So, that mess doesn’t bother you?
  • How was (insert name) house? Did you feel comfortable?

You are asking open-ended questions to begin gaining their trust, gather more information on who your child is becoming and understanding their point of view with a curiosity mindset. It may seem like a slow start, but with practice, you will re-gain that parent/child bond you’ve been looking for.

These questions will open opportunities for conversation if asked without judging.

No judge zone.

Like all of us, your teen does not want to be judged.

teens having fun

As an adult, it’s easier to repel judgment. You stand by your values and morals and if someone doesn’t agree with them, then you just move on. But as a teen, they are in the self-exploring phase. Judgment comes in different forms (and I’m not talking about the religious ones). For teens, judgment comes from every place and in every form. Their teacher’s judges their school work, their coach judges their performance, their siblings judge their every move, and most importantly (to them) their peers judge their clothes, hygiene, body language, music taste, personality, etc.

You get the point.

If your teen is like every other teen, in search of finding themselves, then these judgments may have negative effects such as:

  • Self-criticism/ self-doubt
  • Indecisiveness
  • Seeking outside approval
  • Bottle up their emotions

Home is the place where your child searches for comfort, security, and love. The words or tone you use with your teens ripple into their actions. Using non-judgmental words and tone (more below) will help your child feel more confident in who they are becoming and open to talk to you about their issues. Here are some skills to practice a less judgmental approach:

  • Increase empathy – put yourself in their shoes
  • Match your teen’s emotion – if your teen is upset, share their frustration
  • Use or repeat their words – rephrase their experience or feelings on how you understood them
  • Ask curious questions – open-ended and without judgment

With empathy alone, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

Adjust your tone.

mom and daughters having a good laugh

Asking questions, pretty simple. Not judging, a bit harder. Adjusting your tone, oh boy! There is not a coincidence on why I placed no judging prior to adjusting your tone. For both circumstances, it is a focus on shifting your perception on how you view your teen and the situation or issues your child is struggling with.

You know your teen is a great kid, heck, you raised her! Let’s take a moment and think of her as that 2-year old, learning the world and making mistakes. Susie was about to put her finger in the electric socket then mommy comes to the rescue. Picks Susie up and re-directs her to her favorite toy. You brought their attention from possible danger/problem to solution. It’s the same thing now (just a bit harder).

Here’s an example 12 years later: Susie’s grades have been dropping. The teachers and school counselor contact you to set up a teacher/parent conference. At the conference, they report negative comments about your daughter’s effort and commitment towards school. Your initial reaction is “how can this be? She’s always been an “A” student, this weekend she will definitely not be going to Tiffany’s house!” You pick up your daughter from school and the waterfall of negativity explodes.

You can prevent an unnecessary argument. Your initial reaction of frustration and confusion may stay the same but being able to express and vent to other adults (who are also non-judgmental and don’t feed the fuel) to get it out of your system will prevent the waterfall of negativity from exploding. When your daughter get’s out of school, you express in a neutral tone your feelings, concerns, and focus on the positive. Such as:

  • Expressing your feelings and showing empathy: “It really caught me off guard to hear your grades are dropping. I know middle school is a big adjustment so if there is something going on, I’m here for you.”
  • Concerned and asking curious questions: “I just spoke to your teachers and they mentioned your grades were dropping, I’m wondering what happened?”
  • Focusing on the positive: “They did mention you have a “B” in Science, what’s different in that class?”

If you do not receive a response, give her time (more about this below).

Just like when she was 2-years old, you are redirecting her from problem to solution also known as problem-solving. This time, it is with supporting questions so she can begin to figure it out on her own. Keep in mind, your child is becoming independent and they want to succeed as much as you do. They also want the same nurturing and care but with the support words and empathy.

Adjusting your tone takes practice. It may seem awkward at first, but eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.

Silence is sometimes necessary.

If your child is not ready to talk about a topic or problem, it is okay. Give them space. Just as you wouldn’t force your child to hug a stranger, don’t force them to speak. It may (and usually will) lead them to say rude remarks and cause unnecessary attitude.

Respect your child’s timing.

If timing is an issue then instead of, “you better talk to me right now or else…” you can try, “It seems like right now you’re not ready to talk but we do need to talk by tonight so by 8 p.m., I’ll come back and we will talk then.” Set the expectations but with kindness.

In the case where your teen is struggling with a problem and is too embarrassed or need additional time, you may try statements such as:

“I’m here for you and whenever you’re ready to talk just say the word”

or

“I’ll always love you no matter what, and if you’re going through something I would like to try and help. If you think it’s something a bit more serious and want a different perspective from a professional, just say the word. My door is always open for you.”

The goal is to show your teen you support them. Without forcing them to speak, you strategically show them that you respect them and with respect comes healthy conversations.

As parents, we all make mistakes. It is not about perfection, this is about practice. Some days will be great and others not so much. Don’t beat yourself up about it and just try again the next moment you have with your teen.

If you want personal insight about talking with your teen, feel free to call or text me at 786-519-4375, or just visit the contact page to fill out a quick form.