Remember that insatiably inquisitive youngster?—the incessant refrain of “Why?” that assaulted from across the table or the back seat of the car? As children begin making sense of the world around them, parents search for reserves of patience and are grateful for a brief silence at the end of the day.
And then, all of a sudden, adolescence happens, and children stop talking. “Why” becomes as rare as the quiet once was, and parent questions are met with simple, one‐word answers:
“How was school today?” “Fine.” “Did anything interesting happen?” “No.”
Suddenly parents long for the constant banter and wonder if they might ever have a meaningful conversation again. The good news is that real communication is still possible. The catch is that it will likely require a shift in strategy and the best you can do is open the door for your child to come in.
Here are five ways to increase your chances of talking with your teen:
- Ask like a journalist, not like a lawyer. What becomes abundantly clear to parents of teenagers is that any question that can be answered in one word will be answered in one word. Take a page from the book of the inquisitive toddler and ask questions that require more: who, what, when, why, and how are good places to start. Or try surprising your child with: “Who really tested your patience today?” “If you could choose any teacher to be abducted by aliens, who would it be?” “Who is the most entertaining person at school?”
- Timing is everything. Coming up with the right question is important but timing is just as critical. Adolescents can be completely exhausted—physically, socially, and emotionally—at the end of the school day. You may be hungry for information but your kids may not be in the mood to oblige. Your children may be more likely to talk at bedtime, in the morning before school, or at the exact time that is most inconvenient for you. The key is to be ready anytime. Remember, too, that every conversation does not require your opinion or advice. Sometimes just listening is enough.
- Do something. Parents who engage regularly in activities with their children have a better shot at ongoing open communication. Outdoor activities, hobbies, sports, or a common interest in a video game or TV show provide worthy contexts for conversation. Do something together; the talking might follow.
- When you drive, they think you can't hear them. At least, that’s what kids think. If you’ve ever driven your child and a friend to school or a game, you know you are a fly on the wall as kids talk openly in the back seat. Take advantage of the opportunity to listen and learn.
- Make your house the place to be. If your home is a safe, inviting place for your child to hang out with friends, you will be more connected. Being the gathering place requires extra effort to layout boundaries and expectations (the ability to run wild is not a good reason for teens to want to be in your home). But, if you offer a comfortable place for kids to work, talk, eat, and decompress, you will have a better foundation for conversation later.
There is no sure‐fire strategy for maintaining regular, open, honest communication with a teenager. Your success with these tactics will change like the weather. This part of parenting can be challenging, but it’s important work and well worth the effort.