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Communicating with Your Teen

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Dos and Don'ts Don't...

  • Talk to your teen in the morning when she’s focusing on the day ahead or isn’t fully awake yet.
  • Make steady eye contact.
  • Wait until you have their undivided attention before engaging in important conversations.
  • Totally ban screaming, slamming doors, and swearing, or say you’ll continue the conversation only when your teen calms down.
  • Ask general questions, such as “How was your day?”
  • Share your thoughts as soon as you think your teen is done speaking.
  • Focus most of your conversations around neglected chores, homework, or other gripes.
  • Give unsolicited advice. Teenagers, as a rule, prefer to work out their own problems.
  • Assume you know what they’re talking about because you were a teenager once.
  • Start making light-hearted jokes when she’s talking about something that matters a lot to her.
  • Ask about the reasons underlying their behavior, such as “Why did you do that?”
  • Keep bringing up the same subject over and over, trying to make your point.

Do...

  • Know when your child is most open to conversing with you. Adolescents tend to be more talkative at night, so take advantage of their “inner clock.”
  • Stand side-by-side instead of facing your kid directly. Teens are most likely to open up when they don’t feel like you’re staring them down.
  • Talk to them when they’re engaged in another activity that isn’t too distracting. They’re more likely to share their feelings while shooting hoops, having a snack, or sitting in the car (when you’re the driver).
  • Let your teen vent, within reason. Train yourself to listen to the emotional subtext beneath the drama. Often what teenagers are really trying to say is, “I’m scared,” “I’m confused,” or “I’m afraid you’re disappointed in me.”
  • Be specific -- and take a positive approach. For example, you could ask, “What did your teacher say about your terrific term paper?”
  • Allow extra time before responding. Teens need time to sort through feelings and gather their thoughts, and can’t always express them at once.
  • Talk casually about a wide range of subjects -- favorite TV shows, music, food, sports, and politics. The bulk of your conversations should be positive and help you get to know each other better.
  • Try to acknowledge their viewpoint with statements like, “Good idea” or “That sounds like a tough problem” or “Wow! You did a lot today.” Ask if they want advice, and be prepared to take no for an answer.
  • Realize that kids communicate in different ways than you did. Encourage your teen to describe her world by asking open-ended questions, such as “What did Lucy say then?” “Was Matt there, too?” or “What did you think about that?”
  • Keep in mind that adolescents are sensitive, emotionally vulnerable, and easily hurt. Trying to help them lighten up with a little humor usually backfires and makes them feel that you don’t take their problems and feelings seriously.
  • Understand that teens often don’t know what’s motivating them. You can help by asking, “How did that make you feel?” or “How did that strategy work for you?”
  • Accept that some issues just can’t be resolved. It’s time to let go and move on.