How to listen to your teen

"We need to talk." Those words make me nervous. I don't know whether it's the faint implication of censure, the possible portent of bad news or just the fear of the unknown, but I get edgy. Kids do, too. Here are parenting tips on talking to teens so everyone feels comfortable.

* Don't dramatize. I have a friend who can't carry on serious conversations with his kids without sounding like the voice of doom. He made simple statements sound like accusations. The kids invariably thought they'd done something wrong and misunderstood his intent.

* Compose your thoughts. Before you talk to your kids (particularly if you have something negative to say), take a few minutes to think through what you're going to say. If you're stressed or angry, this will give you time to calm down. Don't try to problem-solve when you're upset.

* Don't mind-read. Even if your teen has shared the same thing a dozen times, you don't know what she's going to say this time. Being second-guessed makes kids close up like clams.

* Don't reinterpret. It's fine to repeat back something your teen has said to make sure you understand. It's okay to ask questions to clarify. But don't evaluate, analyze, dissect or paraphrase her statements. That makes doubt her ability to communicate effectively and makes her think her thoughts require translation by someone wiser.

* Don't play mind games. Don't question your teen's motives. This undermines her self-confidence. Accept what she says at face value. Don't tease, hint or make veiled innuendos. Don't try to trick or psychologically out-maneuver her. You're not opponents in a battle of wits. You're on the same team. Make clear, reasonable, straight-forward statements.

* Don't rant or pontificate. If you disagree, say so nicely. You can guide, but don't superimpose your thinking on hers. You probably do know more than her. But she make her own mistakes. It's how we learn. You can set rules but you can't force her to do it your way. It's presumptuous to try to.

* Dialog. Don't talk just to be saying something. Your opinion isn't needed on every subject. When your teen is talking, listen. Don't plan what you're going to say next. Respond to what's been said. Don't derail all conversations to your agenda.

* Keep it simple. Talk really isn't cheap, it's free. And it's easy when talking to teens, to go on ad nauseum and lose them. Keep speeches to one minute or less. Discuss, don't discourse.

Use these tips to keep the lines of communication open with your teens.