Parenting Matters: Talking to your teen

I write a lot about issues for young children. That does not mean I think that we can ignore older children. Our teens are a significant part of our future. We certainly cannot afford to ignore what is happening with them.

For this reason, it is critical to keep communication open. If you are not having regular talks with your high school- or college-age child, you are teaching him or her that lack of talking together is okay with you. But you can do a great deal to make sure that you and your teen keep talking together now and in the future.

The first requirement in keeping communication open is to make the time for it. If you ignore making the time, there won’t be enough time. There is time available to talk. We know there can be great discussions in the car at least before she gets her driver’s license and takes off on her own. You can have good discussions about things while you are making dinner or puttering around the kitchen. Make sure that neither of you is on the phone during this time.

Another requirement is that you listen to the little things. If you listen, your teen will talk. This is true on the heavy issues such as sex and drugs, or everyday things like schoolwork or friends. When your teen knows you are listening, he is more likely to trust you enough to talk about more things that matter in his life.

You need to listen between the lines. For many teens, it is hard to talk to parents about things that really matter. Pay attention to the subjects your teen struggles to talk about with you and encourage or at least be open to what she is saying.

Take time to listen

Ask your child’s opinion about different subjects. Few things please children (or anyone else) more than being asked their opinion. Even just asking what does he think can help open communication.

Ask him what car does he think would be his first choice if he had the money. Or ask what he thinks about your plans for summer vacation. Ask his opinions on both little and big things. Just being asked, “What do you think, Jack?” gives his opinion merit.

Be sure to not interrupt when she is talking. In a national survey, more than half the children said that when they talked, their parents often or sometimes didn’t give them a chance to explain themselves. Give your teen some extra time to explain her opinion or desires, even if you think you know what she is going to say.

A critical part of increasing the quantity of conversations is to be positive. Conversations that are negative about how his hair is too long or his shirt looks dirty or even negative things about his friends discourage future conversations. Keep the conversations positive and they are most likely to happen again and soon.

There are many serious things to talk and think about when you have a teen, but don’t forget about having fun. What has your family done together to get ready for the holidays that was fun for everyone, including your teen? Think about it. If your answer is “nothing,” correct it. Talk with her about it and see what she thinks would be fun. Try it. It makes life better.

The conversations you have today predict the conversations you will have in the future. Actually, this is true not only with your teen but also with your young child, your partner and your friend.

We really don’t think or talk frequently about what it takes to have a good conversation. It may really be worth the time and effort. Ask your teen.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. To reach current First Teacher Executive Director Nicole Brewer, email or call 360-681-2250.