How to Talk to Your Teen

Many parents find that their previously loquacious children become teens who keep each word a prisoner. When asked, “How was your day?” they respond with a monosyllabic, “Fine.” When you follow up with, “What did you do?” they answer, “Not much.” It is completely normal for teens to want more independence and privacy in their adolescent years, but there are ways to invite your teen to open up and share more with you.

Here are some tips for talking with your teen:
1. Not so many questions
Even the most tight-lipped teen will occasionally slip and share something about their day. When they do, your response can either open the door to further conversation, or promptly shut it. Try to offer a reflection about what they have shared, rather than a follow up question. You may feel so excited that they are actually having a conversation with you, on their own volition, that you jump on it and ask a bunch of questions. Questions can make you teen clam up while reflections allow your child to feel heard and less defensive. Try saying something like, “Wow that sounds hard,” or “Oh that’s really interesting.”

2. Sit with the emotion
As parents, it is often difficult to hear that our child is in pain or struggling. When they tell us something painful it can feel like a knee-jerk reaction to explain why what they are telling us is actually not so bad. We may want to re-frame what they said so that they don’t feel sad, but this can lead to them feeling misunderstood and alone in their feelings. Allowing room for them to express sadness can actually help them to move through the experience.

3. Express understanding, not criticism 
When your teen shares a difficult experience with you, it is often tempting to explore what they could have done differently. While you may feel this is helping your child avoid similar situations in the future, chances are, they will feel blamed and may regret having opened up to you in the first place. Empathizing with your child about what they are sharing, without trying to change anything, yields connection and further discussion. While we may not see why our teen is reacting so strongly to a disappointment, it is important not to minimize their feelings. Recognizing that we might react differently to an event should not make us minimize our teen’s upset when talking with them.

4. Give them space and time
Finally, read their cues. If they are broadcasting that they don’t feel like chatting, give them space and wait until they seem like they might be more receptive. Sometimes, a car ride or shopping trip can afford the opportunity to connect. Connection, rather than information gathering, should really be the goal. When you focus more on the connection the information will come.

Here’s to your Well Being,
Aliza Mendel, LCSW