Many parents complain about trying to communicate with their teen son or daughter. “They just clam up and won’t talk,” they often say. There are a few things to consider when trying to “get inside” a teen. Three of those many things are timing, location and choice of words.
Too many times we want to talk to a teen when it is convenient for us rather than thinking about whether it is convenient to the teen. Teens have many adjustments to make in growing up resulting in many things on their minds and many differing moods. One minute they may be on top of the world and the next minute down in the dumps. It is helpful to determine the mood of the teen at the moment and choose a time when that person is more receptive to conversation.
It is not wise to try to talk to a teen if that teen is watching a favorite show on TV, in the middle of a conversation with a friend, or otherwise occupied with something he/she considers very important. It is best to watch for an opportunity when the child is not focused on something else. It seems that to a teen, everything is big and important, even though it may not seem that way to us. To interrupt in the middle of something very important to the teen simply causes the teen to become frustrated and usually unable to concentrate fully on what we might want to discuss.
If a time can be arranged for just the two of you to be alone, that is best. Teens are very self-conscious. They are always worried about what those around them may think of them. The teen cannot be expected to reveal true feelings when friends are around. They will tend to be worried about what their friends may be thinking and will choose answers to impress the friends. It is best to have only the parent or parents present with the teen when serious matters are to be discussed. The teen will usually feel freer to talk with one parent rather than two, but the parent should be alert to any effort on the part of the child to pit one parent against another. Parents need to support each other.
I have found in my past experience that one of the very best places to talk with a teen is in a car. If the teen has a driver’s license, ask to be driven to a drive-in for a coke. For some reason, it seems that teens will open up and tell you almost anything while sitting behind the steering wheel with just the two of you present. I’m not sure why that works, but it seems to always work for me. Another possibility is to take the son or daughter to lunch or shopping where just the two of you are present. The teen feels special for getting the undivided attention and is more apt to talk with you when no one else is present.
Choice of words is so very important. There are key words that upset a teen. Words that deal with how a teen looks can be very cutting. “You” is a word that makes the discussion personal and often carries the connotation of blame. Most of the time, it is better to generalize when discussing behavior rather than personalize. Never butt in when the child is talking. Wait until the child pauses for you to say something. Don’t condemn. Lecturing the child or condemning the child will most certainly keep that child from talking to you in the future.
Try to be understanding and ask questions that will cause the person to think and figure out for him/herself the best way to handle a situation. Telling is not teaching. We should always try to get the son or daughter to decide for self the proper way to act or react. Try not to be shocked no matter what you are told. Stay calm and let the teen get everything “off the chest”. Even if you know the child is wrong, remember that you will not convince him/her that it is wrong simply by saying that it is. They must know the reasoning behind the words. The value of asking questions cannot be overestimated. Questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” will stimulate more conversation and thinking.
Teen years are difficult years. It is so much better to get values taught before the teen years arrive, but it is impossible to achieve this goal completely. Our love for our teens requires that we be patient, gentle, and understanding. Emphasis should be placed on the feelings of the teen rather than our own discomfort or feelings. Choosing the right time and location to talk to teens helps to allay discomfort for both. Words can hurt and therefore must be chosen carefully.