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How to get better conversations out of teens


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Parents of teenage children know how hard it can be to engage them in meaningful discussions and connect, especially in the course of busy weekdays.

When we try to start a conversation we get a grunt. We try to raise conversations about relationships, values and spirituality but our kids think we are being too pushy or nosy and they just tune out.

Here are some suggestions to help you have better conversations with teenagers:

1. Pay attention and empathise

Ask questions. When you talk with your teenager about issues or things that are happening in their world, ask them about their thoughts and views.

Avoid teaching, correcting, moralising or attacking. Be open and inquisitive and show respect for your teenager’s opinions.

2. Make a regular booking

Plan regular time to spend together. Spend at least one hour a week just hanging out. Listen to music, shoot hoops, play cards, go for a walk. Make it a regular time each week.

Our kids often have heavily scheduled lives, just like we do. Spending time hanging out with your child shows them that you find them interesting and worthwhile and that you value spending time with them.   This is often the time when kids will ask parents questions.

3. Keep it short and simple.

If you have to have a conversation about something sensitive, your teenager will often be more responsive if you apply the “50% rule”. Almost every parent says at least 50% more than she or he should. Keep it short and sweet. Remember getting lectured by your parents at school? They “get the point” already.

4. Seize the moment

Turn a stressful car trip into a moment where you can give your child focussed attention.

Many families spend their weeks in transit between sports training and other activities. Use the time when you’re in the car together to put the devices and handsfree away and speak with one another.

5. Get them thinking then get them talking

Ask your teenager questions that will get them thinking about the world they live in, what they think is important and why. Here are a few you could try:

If you could give every human being one quality, what would it be?

If your life was made into a movie, who would play you, and why?

If you could know one thing about the future, what would it be?

What is the most important quality that leaders should have?

What leaders do you know that you admire?

Describe the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.

What was the most interesting thing you saw today?

6. Address their concerns honestly and directly

If your teenager is asking you about sex, drugs, friends, clothes, politics – that is a good thing! These are things they will encounter and the best approach is to be open, clear and communicative.  Remain calm, listen and ask questions.

7. Make their media matter

Whether you are watching a movie or the TV News, playing an electronic game or listening to the radio, use the themes that come up to talk to your teenager.   Teenagers have a lot of questions about love, sex or relationships, but they may not want to raise them directly. Movies or TV shift the focus away from the teen themselves, to a fictional character or situations.

8. Text your teen

Most parents struggle to get their children to turn off their phone or device, so don’t want to encourage use by sending real-time messages throughout the day. However, see communication through their eyes. The average teenager sends more than 30 texts per day.  This communication is meaningful to them. Even a short message saying that you’re thinking of them will likely be well-received. It may make them more likely to engage in conversation when they see you face to face.

9. Don’t compete with your teen

One-upping your teenager is a sure-fire way to see them disengage. Teenagers are learning things that can seem pretty obvious to parents, but “been there, done that” stories won’t be welcome. If your teenager is sharing a story with you, be a good listener and focus on them, instead of anxiously awaiting your chance to tell your bigger, better story or talk about your experience.

10. Don’t connect with your teenager at the expense of anyone else in the family

We’ve all done it, unintentionally broken a confidence or said something that we shouldn’t have to our children. Sometimes sharing confidences can generate closeness and a sense of intimacy, but when you share sensitive or inappropriate information about other family members it ultimately makes your teenager feel unsafe.   This is particularly important in blended families where ‘us and them’ dynamics can take hold.   If you do stick your foot in your mouth, sincerely apologise, change the topic and move on.