Not knowing what is going on for your child has to be every parent’s nightmare and when it comes to teenagers, it is a very legitimate concern.
Studies such as this one confirm what everyone who has parented a teen (or has been a teen) already knows – there is a decline in disclosure and an increase in secrecy within parent-child communication from ages 12 to 19.
But this doesn’t mean parents should give up and not try to foster a communicative relationship with their teen. Good communication has been shown to be a protective factor for adolescents in relation to issues such as alcohol, illicit substances, bullying and sexual activity.
So how do parents get teens to open up?
Here are some strategies to try:
1. Open up to them
Communication is a two-way street. By chatting to your teen about your day, sharing something that annoyed you or that made you laugh, you will pave the way for them to do the same. It will also give you an opening to ask about their day. Casual conversations at meal times or in the car are a great opportunity to build this rapport with your teen.
2. Show an active interest in their lives
By showing a genuine interest in your teen’s life, they are more likely to be willing to share with you. Knowing what interests them, who their friends are and what their current likes and dislikes are, gives you a starting point for conversation with your teen. And you never know you may just have something in common!
3. Respect their privacy
If you push for information, there is a fair chance your teen will shut down. Avoid snooping or prying. By letting them know you respect their privacy, you will reinforce a sense of security and trust in your relationship.
4. Reserve judgement and listen
As hard as it might be, hear them out and acknowledge their point of view before offering your thoughts. Try to avoid criticism, shoulds and should nots, and listen to what they have to say. By treating them as you would any other adult who is voicing their opinion, you are showing them respect. Consequently your teen is more likely to feel validated and heard. After all, as an individual they are entitled to have their own values and opinions too.
You need to accept that some days your attempts at conversation will hit a brick wall. You are dealing with a teenager after all! Non-committal grunts are part of their language. Continue to gently encourage conversation and one day you may be pleasantly surprised.