Have you ever noticed how it seems that beginning in the tween years, your child suddenly can't stop talking, chatting, or texting but as soon as you walk in the room or pick them up in the car all "noise" stops? Quite often there is a little warning to the other teen as they get a text message that says PAW or PBB ("parents are watching" and "parents behind back"). How can parents avoid the "I dunno," "Fine," "Okay" and "Nuthing" responses when we try to talk to them?
Make time to talk. Maybe it can be after you pick them up from school or a game. Maybe it's over the dinner table. Whatever time of day it is, make sure that your tween and teen know that you are available to them.
There is more to talking than talk. Listening is very important. Understanding, empathy, and keeping judgments, anger and shocked expressions out of the conversation are also critical, or it won't be a conversation for very long.
Talk about anything or nothing at all. Sometimes talking about nothing at all accomplishes a great deal when trying to talk to your tween and teen. Sometimes you just talk about a television show they are watching or a book they are reading. Maybe you ask them questions about an upcoming event or even ask their impressions about current events in the news. But letting them know you are available to talk about the not so important stuff gives them more security when they have to talk to you about the really important stuff.
Create questions. Ask your tween or teen how a situation or event makes them feel and what they think they can do about it. Sometimes they already know the answer; they just need to ask the right questions, through you, to get to the answers.
Go for the games. Something as simple as playing a Wii game with your teen and tween can get them talking. One thing leads to another and suddenly you are having a conversation. Board games, card games, and interactive game systems are all opportunities to get the game and the discussion going.
Bite your tongue. Oh this one is so hard! We want to say things like "When I was your age" and "You (or your friend) did WHAT?" Keep your advice, shock, dismay and amazement to yourself. You may be asking, how can we have a conversation then? Well, you can listen and then prompt them to find ways to solve their problem, and then add details, recommendations or suggestions. After all, if you do give advice they are just going to say, "You are an adult -- what do you know?" Or worse yet, find something negative or critical in your response.
Be prepared. Another way of describing this would be to "test the waters." Call, don't text, when you are on your way home. Sometimes just those few minutes on the phone can give you an idea of what sort of mood your teen will be in. Sometimes it will even warn you of an announcement to come. Don't handle your suspicions then and there but wait until you get home to dive right in.
Trust your teen. You have to believe that your teen is telling you the truth. It may not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Sometimes it's the truth as they see it. You know what they say; there is her story and his story and then the truth. But by trusting in your teen you are providing them with a sense of security that they desperately need in order to give you response beyond "Okay" and "Fine."
There is nothing easy about communicating with your teen. If it helps at all, it does get better. It does get easier. Someday they may even say to you, like my oldest son did, that he appreciates being able to talk to me "anytime about anything." And, he likes that he still can. Now, if I can just make it through the other three. Maybe he can give his sisters a text of recommendation for me. After all, they may not be talking to him, either.
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