Teenage silences and baffling responses are infamous. We have all heard those annoying grunts and have felt frustrated at not being able to get anywhere close to having a normal conversation with a teenager. Where has that once open and chatty member of the family disappeared to? Never fear. There are some tricks to making your teen do more than merely utter primeval grunts.
If you are serious about wanting to hold anything resembling a civilised conversation with a teenager, TIME, PLACE and APPROACH are everything. Here are some strategies that may work with your teenager…
When you want to have an important chat with your teen, choose the right time. Avoid trying to start a conversation with touchy teenagers when they first arrive home after school unless they look excited and happy and ready to chat. ‘You look happy. How was your day?’ Most teenagers, however, are tired after a day at school and hungry!! Hungry bears, lions and most wild animals are to be avoided when they are hungry. Hungry teens are no different. Have food in the fridge or somewhere reachable and allow the teenager time and space to eat and chill out. Teenagers hate to be inundated with questions the minute you lay eyes on them. Wait till later in the evening when the moodiness, anger or disappointment may have lessened somewhat.
Avoid trying to start a conversation with teens when they are clearly upset, angry or moody. Moody teenagers are not pleasant. Give them space. Don’t ask anything. Instead try… ‘Would you like me to get you a (insert favourite hot drink and snack)? I’m starving. How about you?’
If your teen looks upset and immediately disappears into the bedroom shutting the door, resist the temptation to immediately follow asking questions. Allow your teen time to cool down or recover a little from whatever is upsetting her. Later on, knock at the door rather than simply opening the door. Teens cherish privacy and appreciate parents who respect their personal space. Knock and wait until you hear a response. Ask ‘Can I come in for a minute?’ Don’t bombard your teen with more questions. And if you arrive bearing food or an invitation involving food, you are generally off to a promising start. ‘How about we get a pizza tonight?’ or ‘Would you like me to cook hamburgers tonight?’ Once again, your teen may be more inclined to chat after a good meal.
Don’t try to initiate a conversation right before an exam, sports event or school event that teenagers see as important. Be supportive and offer to be the chauffeur or to help out as much as you can. Leave that important conversation you have been wanting to have until after these events. And if you have been particularly helpful, your teenager is more likely to be open to talking in the following day or days.
Some people say that a smart place to strike up a conversation with a touchy teenager is while driving in the car. (Preferably when you are driving as opposed to when you are teaching your teen to drive!) While you are driving, your teen is literally your captive audience. But once again choose the right time. Don’t choose a time straight after an important exam which clearly hasn’t gone well for your teen. Don’t choose a time when your teen seems stressed or worried. Choose a time when your teen is happy or at least emotionally ‘neutral’. Perhaps choose the ride home from a successful sports game or the drive home from having that pizza.
Choose a place (and time) where you have privacy to sort out important issues. Don’t try to discuss something you are concerned about when there are siblings or other people around. ‘I was really hurt at the way you spoke to me yesterday. But I make mistakes too and I’m sorry if I somehow made you so angry with me. I know you didn’t mean what you said and I really want us both to forget about it and move on. Is that okay? Can we forget about it and not let this happen again?’ Apart from privacy, teenagers all need to know that they can be forgiven and that parents won’t hold grudges and continually bring up past mistakes.
Choose your WORDS carefully. Avoid using ‘Why?’ because this almost always angers teenagers. Avoid starting conversations along these lines… ‘Why do you always speak to me in such a negative way?’, ‘Why do you always refuse to sit down and have a talk about anything?’ or ‘Why do you always do things like this.’ To a touchy teenager these questions come across as accusations which can quickly escalate into a heated discussion. Instead, try ‘I really need to tell you something. I know we are both busy but I feel really hurt/sad because we don’t seem to find time to talk any more. And there is something that’s worrying me…’
But don’t revert to any ‘Whys’ as you continue. Try something along these lines…’Can we both agree not to shout at each other again? I’m sorry I got so angry earlier today. How about you start by telling me what I have done to upset you?’
Try opening up a conversation by offering to listen when your teenager is ready. ‘Sally, I might be mistaken but you seem upset (angry/worried) about something. Is there anything I can do? Just let me know.’ Unless your teenager opens up and says something, quietly walk away. Sometimes we all need a little alone time to calm down and sort out our thoughts and feelings before we talk to another person. Leave things as they are and hopefully there will be an opportunity (good TIME and good PLACE) in the next day or so when you can broach the subject again. ‘Can I ask again if everything is okay? Is there something worrying you?’
Try the unexpected approach. Buy your teenager a small gift that you know he will love. Don’t spend a lot of money. It really is the thought that counts. Even a favourite pastry is enough. Or cook your teen’s favourite cake and leave a piece on his desk. Leave a short note…
‘I know how hard you are working at school/how hard you are training for the team/how hard you are working on your essay and I thought you might like this pastry/cake/donut. I’m sorry we got into that argument yesterday. Let’s forget it and not yell at each other again. I’m proud of the way you are working so hard/training so hard.’
TIME, PLACE, APPROACH…
All of these strategies are not backing down. They are about trying to build a stronger bridge between you and your teenager, they are about trying to break down the wall that seems to appear each time you try to reach out and attempt even the simplest communication with your teenager.
Every teenager is different and will respond well to different approaches so try different approaches to see what works for your teenager. However, almost every teenager needs…
- Privacy – alone time
- Respect – knock before entering
- Parents who really listen – and wait for the right time to speak
- Forgiveness – don’t keep bringing up past mistakes
- Food – no joking – at busy exam times cooking a favourite cake or meal is a great way to win and influence teen friends!
So, remember…TIME, PLACE and APPROACH…