After just finishing up a weekend that focused on all things “Mom,” (and what a great weekend it was!), parenting is fresh on my mind. Parenting is good work. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s vitally important work that forever impacts the lives of the next generation. As I reflect back to when I was parenting young teens, I am reminded of the importance of intentionality in this season of life.. In fact, there is one area that can either make or break your relationship with your teen. Can you guess what it is?
In order to set our kids up for success in adulthood, parents must be effective communicators. The crux of it is this: We may have all the wisdom in the world to offer, but if we package it in an unappealing way, it won’t stick.
Today’s post is the first installment in a three-part miniseries about communicating with our teens and is based on one of the most important chapters in Parenting for the Launch. We hope these strategies help you engage with your teens in a way that promotes trust and mutual respect, while still empowering and influencing them in a positive way.
Strategy 1: Meet them where they are.
It took me far too long to realize that my kids, Michael and Lauren, were much more communicative at different times and places than others. Deep dinner conversations, chats during commutes, and all the times that were convenient for me often didn’t work for them. I learned that our best conversations were away from home at coffee shops or restaurants. A change of environment made all the difference in the world in terms of their willingness to share with me.
My wife, Jeanne, and I also learned that doing something with your kids (e.g., cooking a meal, watching a show, playing games, listening to music, taking a walk, building something, having a manicure or pedicure, or playing a sport) works. We noticed that a little distraction can take the “heaviness” out of a parent/teen conversation and cause them to open up more. It really helped build relationship capital by enjoying the experience and the conversation—and it could do the same for you!
Find the time and place that works best for your teen and sacrifice your convenience for them at this critical time. Notice what environments bring out more conversation and which don’t and operate accordingly. If they’re not in the mood to talk, let it be and don’t take it personally. After all, they have their own rhythms, too.
Strategy 2: Focus more on understanding and listening.
Because parents have the benefit of experience and wisdom, it’s easy for us to overly direct and control our conversations. The busier we are, the more we run this risk. We can easily do most of the talking and give them advice without first listening to their perspectives and feelings. Sometimes they just need to vent and only want us to listen. We can fall into a trap of prejudging and jumping to conclusions, without giving them the benefit of the doubt and respecting their opinions. Without realizing it, we’re devaluing them, harming our opportunity to influence and their opportunity to grow.
It’s amazing to see the difference in our conversations if our goal is merely to understand, share, and relate. By asking open-ended questions, valuing their opinions (even if you disagree), and focusing more on listening than talking, you’ll build capital and grow deeper in your relationship.
Bottom line: think “share with” rather than “talk to.” It’s a telltale sign that you’re treating them as the adult they are becoming, and they’ll appreciate you for it.
Do you have any special strategies for communicating with your teen? What have you noticed works well in your own parent/teen relationship? Stay tuned for next week when we will dive into two more communication strategies.
About the author
Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Through his books, blog, and nationwide speaking engagements, Dennis prepares students for life success and equips parents and educators in their vital training role. You can find him here on Facebook.