Remember the days when your preschooler wouldn’t stop talking? All those questions and comments about the world around them as their creative minds explored and grew with curiosity. That nonstop chatter about an elaborate game they were playing or asking all those why questions. Then, one day it appears to stop. Your child enters the pre-teen and teen years, and they go from an open book to a closed one. This sealed book has left you feeling shut out of their life and asking, “How can I get my teen to open-up and talk to me?”
Believe it or not, pre-teens and teens do talk. As parents, we need to start noticing the little conversation openers. Kids offer little conversation openers that can be the gateway for a larger conversation but often parents are on autopilot and are not fully present. Active listening means actually looking at your child when they speak to you. Pay attention to what they are saying, nod and make meaningful comments or statements in return. Take a look at this short video from Jennifer Kolari, a Toronto therapist and author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid: https://www.todaysparent.com/family/age-by-age-guide-to-getting-your-kid-to-talk/
Knowing the right time
We all experience times of day when we tend to be a little more (or less) vocal. For many kids this is NOT as soon as they come home from school. Most kids agreed that this is the worst time to ask questions about their day. 11-year-old Alyssa says, “Kids need time and space. Once they do open up, don’t make too many comments, and don’t rush the conversation.” Teens want to be heard, but often it is on their terms. It varies from child to child, but better times to have a conversation with your child is when you are spending one-on-one time with them (e.g., perhaps in the car) or while you are shopping. Jayden (13 years of age) states “I don’t want a whole group to be around listening to a private conversation. I prefer it to be one on one. The best is when we go out together, like at a restaurant or café.”
What to avoid?
As teenagers get older, they begin to feel more comfortable talking with their friends. This is not to say that they will never open-up to you. It just means they may need a little more time and patience.
According to Alyssa, the worst thing parents can do is to “Get upset after you have tried multiple times when we are not opening up and now kids are afraid to talk. Just listen instead of talking and talking about it.”
Twelve-year-old Lindsay states “I hate it when my mom always starts to give me her opinion. Sometimes I just want her to hear what I have to say. Especially when its about clothes.”
16-year-old Gee emphasizes the importance of sharing. “I feel comfortable talking to them because they share things with me. The best thing a parent can do is share similar experiences. If I know they have been through something relatable I would be open to starting a conversation. If parents share more about what is going on in their lives and things that have happened in the past it can open-up conversations and help kids to know you have had things just as bizarre happen, you have done equally embarrassing or regrettable things. It is nice to know you are not alone and I think this is a good way to show kids that you care.”
What to ask your teen?
When you finally get an opportunity to have a conversation with your teen, avoid general questions such as “How was school today?” Specific questions are likely to generate a more meaningful conversation. A great way to get your child to open-up is to ask them questions about things they are interested in. Yes, this means starting a conversation about Fortnite!
Getting it right
Even though you may be feeling a little disconnected, parents are getting it right. Morgan (14 years old), says “They really do listen and are always willing to listen.” For Peter it is important that he never feels judged, “They don’t judge my thoughts, so it helps me to talk to them.” We can learn a lot from our teens; Evangelina (13): “My parents are good at making me tell them what’s going on. They ask a lot of questions. The advice I would give parents is to talk to them as much as you want them to talk to you. Oh, and I prefer them to give an opinion when I ask them for it.”13-year-old Lauren says, “My mom and I always talk after a fight. We try and resolve things later when we are both calm. I like that.”
It may take some time for your child to open-up and share with you. Be patient and keep trying. Who knows, you may find out that you actually enjoy talking about Fortnite!
A special thank-you to all the wonderful teens who felt comfortable opening-up and sharing their thoughts with me!
- Jennifer Kolari (2011), You’re Ruining My Life! Surviving the Teenage Years with Connected Parenting
- Dr. Laura Markham (2012), Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting