Three Simple Ways to Connect with Your Teen
Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening – Emma Thompson
Around the dinner table, or over the weekends, what do you and your teen talk about? If you’re like most parents, the conversations fall into a few standard categories: academics, work, behaviors, privileges, sports, friends, clothes, chores, or the rules of the house. This is a long list, full of important topics that are worth discussing. But can you think back to a conversation with your child that didn’t revolve around these typical aspects of a teen’s life? Unfortunately, most of what we talk about relates to what our teens are doing (or in many cases not doing). But we often forget to ask what they’re thinking—what their passions and goals are in life.
Good communication is essential to establishing a healthy and loving relationship with your teen. When I mention this, many parents of struggling teens tell me, “But Mark, my teen and I talk all the time!” The truth is, talking to your teenager does not necessarily mean that you’re communicating. In fact, too much talk can cover up what really needs to be said or asked.
Mom and dad, do you want to connect with your teen in a way that helps them share their deepest hopes, biggest concerns or growing fears? Or is the standard mode of communication between the two of you an endless stream of superficial words, demands, and lecturing? Let me share with you three simple ways you can improve your communication and make a meaningful connection with your teen.
Communicate By Asking Questions
One of the most powerful tools in a parent’s toolbox is a good question. With the right question, you can gain entrance into your child’s world and have a greater opportunity to speak into their lives. It’s the same way with adults. When someone asks our opinion, we feel valued. When someone shows interest in our passions and interests, we feel appreciated. Our favorite subject is often ourselves! Ask even a reserved teenager a good question, and you’ll probably find yourself waist deep in a stream of conversation.
So what counts as a good question? You can go ahead and forget about questions like “How was your day?” or “What were you thinking?” If a question can be answered in a single word, then it won’t build good communication. And if your question is laced with sarcasm, judgment or meant to embarrass, chances are your teen won’t even hear it. Good questions convey a sense of value and relationship. They are a way to move toward your teen by asking what they think, how they feel, and giving them the freedom answer honestly.
Some examples of good questions include:
- What would be one thing I could do for you to make your life better?
- We’re all known for something. What would you like to be known for?
- Do you think the music (or movies, TV shows) you watch or listen to influences you, or is just an expression of what you feel, or what you’re in the mood for?
- What would make school better for you?
- What’s a lesson about life you’ve learned this week?
- When you hear someone talk about a “real man” who comes to mind?
- If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would you choose?
It’s crucial we keep our mouths shut long enough to hear a child’s answer. And when the real answer comes out, regardless of how shocking it may be, don’t respond with anger or disappointment. Just listen. Establishing a line of communication is far more important at this point than scolding or saying “I told you so.”
Often, just by asking questions, you empower your teens to apply the values you have already taught them. Your questions might also encourage your teen to ask questions of you, so be ready to give thoughtful and honest answers!
Communicate Respect in Times of Conflict
Maintaining an attitude of respect is a large part of healthy communication. If you demand a level of respect from your teenager, then they also expect a measure of consideration from you. This spills over not only into our words, but also into our tone and demeanor. You wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect, so why would do that to your teen? Show grace and respect in the way you communicate with your child, and they’ll be quicker to respond in the same way with you.
Conflict is inevitable when it comes to parenting teenagers. Try and make it your goal at the end of any argument to provide an opportunity for a hug. Just because there’s conflict doesn’t mean the relationship is ruined. Even if I can’t agree with my kids, I still want them to know that they are loved. Being respectful has nothing to do with the consequences you may need to enforce, or the problems that need to be dealt with. Instead, it means maintaining the right approach in communicating with your teen.
When you need to address a problem or behavioral issue, I again recommend asking a good question. It can help engage a teen’s thinking process and the system of beliefs you’ve taught them. You may be surprised to find they come to the right conclusion all on their own!
Communicate by Listening More, Speaking Less
Staying silent when our teen is talking isn’t necessarily the same thing as listening. We may hear the words our teen is using, but do we really understand what they’re trying to say?
In the many years I’ve worked with kids, I’ve found that they often say things not to communicate valuable information, but simply to process life. Your daughter isn’t necessarily looking for a response when she vents about issues with a homework assignment. Your son may not need an opinion or a solution when he explains his problem with a friend. They may just need a listening ear. Take time to hear what they have to say—without putting in your two cents.
A Sunday school teacher once asked the ten-year-olds in her class, “What’s wrong with grown-ups?” A boy responded, “Grown-ups never really listen because they already know what they’re going to answer.” I’ll admit; many times that was me. And if this sounds like you, it may be time to own up to the fact that your listening skills could use some improvement.
Being consistent in listening to your child goes a long way in determining his or her willingness to share their deep concerns with you. If a teen shares her heart and it’s misunderstood or met with quick judgments and opinions, they will eventually quit sharing. If our teen is in the shutdown mode, there is a reason. And the reason may be that we aren’t listening anyway.
Maybe your connection to your teen is a bit frayed at the moment. A little bit of intentionality and care will go a long way in this area! My prayer is that these three communication methods can help you reconnect with your son and daughter, and help you establish more open, loving relationships in your home.