Research conducted by Mission Australia in 2011 shows that 60% of teenagers still choose to talk to their parents about the issues that matter to them. However, most parents I share this statistic with feel like their family is in the 40% and wish their teenager spoke to them more often.
A report written by Dianne Mckard, PhD, suggests that 85% of teenagers value their parents’ opinion about serious decisions, yet a quarter were unable to talk to their mother and half of the girls and a third of the boys were unable to talk to their father.
My experience tells me this. Teenagers can have a good relationship with their parents and not talk to them. They can believe their parents care about them and not talk to them. They can even want their parents’ opinion and not talk to them. Communication between parents and teenagers doesn’t always come naturally and isn’t a reflection of the love and care in a home.
It can be challenging to know how to talk to teenagers about sensitive topics (or any subject at all) when they have decided they no longer want to talk to you. A roll of the eyes, a “Do Not Disturb” sign, or a blunt “Whatever” can lead parents to a dead end if they don’t know how to navigate around them.
Below are a list of five strategies that are designed to help improve communication between parents and teenagers.
Strategy 1. Don’t Get Offended
What teenagers say in the heat of the moment may not be a true representation of what they are feeling inside, so don’t take it personally. Remember that “I hate you”, usually means “I am annoyed right now”; and that ‘Whatever’ is a word that will pass just as surely as 13 will pass on their 14th birthday.
Strategy 2. Delay Your Agenda
When parents are pushed for time they tend to approach teenagers with a set agenda with little regard for their teenager’s head space. This can interrupt and frustrate a teenager who would prefer to text their friends or play x-box. If parents delay their agenda, and deliberately connect with their teenager before bringing up their concerns, they will have a more open starting point.
Strategy 3. Listen With Your Heart
When teenagers tell me their parents don’t listen I can’t help but chuckle. What teenagers usually mean is that their parents don’t understand or agree with their opinion. Accepting and acknowledging your teenagers thoughts, even if you don’t like them, is an important part of communicating. Sometimes it is more appropriate to listen with your heart than to present a rebuttal speech. If every conversation is an intense one, dominated by correction or education, your teenager won’t want to talk to you.
Strategy 4. Choose Your Environment Carefully
When and where you communicate is just as critical as the words you use. If your teenager is not a big talker, try walking and talking, or driving and talking. At least this will be less confronting than eyeballing them over the dinner table. Boys tend to communicate better when their bellies are full or after they been physically active. Talking straight after teenagers arrive home from school is probably the worst time.
Strategy 5. Spend Time Together
Spending time together doesn’t ensure communication, but it does provide an opportunity for communication. The more quality time you can spend together, away from the interruption of technology, the better. If you are the person who is there when your teenager needs or wants to talk, chances are they will talk to you.
THANK YOU to everyone who has been passing these blog posts on, and for all your kind emails about their impact on your family. If you have a topic you would like me to blog about email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond to it as soon as I can.
If you would like to book me to speak at your school or community event email email@example.com.
MOST IMPORTANTLY if your teenager needs support from a psychologist, counsellor or mentor Youth Excel would love to help. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Teenage Girls Don’t Tell their Parents is available at www.michellemitchell.org for $24.95 plus postage.