Part 1 of Tips for Talking with Your Teen covered ways to create opportunities for connection with your teen. Finding times for talking with your teen can be a challenge. But what do you do or say once you have them in a chatty mood? Read on for some of my favorite tips for talking with your teen.
It can be hard to be present sometimes. You might be trying to get out that last work email or just playing on your phone. But when your teen starts chatting with you, try to give them your full attention. If you’re in the middle of something, let them know when you will be free to talk with them. Like, “let me just get dinner in the oven, and then I can focus on what you are saying.” So the next time your teen starts talking with you, notice it, pause multi-tasking, and really listen.
Validate Their Thoughts and Feelings
In terms of building or maintaining strong relationships, validating other people’s experiences is crucial. Think about how you feel when someone says, “you don’t really think that” or “you’re not really mad.” You’d probably feel upset, maybe angry. The conversation might even end there. In fact, “going silent” and shutting down is a tried and true teen response to those feelings. Which of course, totally ends the conversation.
Instead, keep in mind that validating someone does not mean agreeing with them. It simply means that you hear and understand their perspective. Try validating statements like, “I understand you are angry” or “That must have been hard for you.” This keeps the channels of communication open, while at the same time strengthening your relationship with your teen.
I once had a colleague who told me to be careful about thinking I understand someone. When we think we understand, she said, we stop listening. But what to do instead?
Try to adopt a curious mindset. Don’t jump to conclusions to try to hurry a conversation. Ask questions and seek to understand. Why do they like a certain TikTok creator? What do they enjoy about school? Did they have any funny dreams last night? What are their opinions about the place where they live? Your teen will sense your interest and over time might start sharing more.
Show Interest in What Interests Them
This one sounds pretty straightforward, right? And to some degree, it is. An easy way to bond with another person is to share their interests. You and your teen might already do this and it’s happened naturally. If so, congratulations!
However, even if you share some common interests, it’s unlikely that you share everything. Think about some of your teen’s hobbies, activities, and passions. What are they thinking about, how are they spending their downtime, and what are they looking forward to? You don’t need to be a full-on expert or share these interests, but you’ll learn a lot about what your teen is doing and thinking about, just by asking questions and sharing time to explore them.
Giving praise is a simple way to have a small connection with someone. Whenever you can- in an honest way- give your teen positive feedback. For example, “I like how you’re such a good friend to Sophia” or “Nice job cleaning up the table without being asked.” The key things to keep in mind here are that the praise is honest and specific. Your only goal here is to provide praise for something your teen did (or didn’t do!).
Lastly, be yourself. Being genuine and paying attention to what your teen is saying are some of the most important things you can do. Your child will know if you’re trying to be someone you aren’t. And most likely will say something like, “Why are you being weird?”
So just remember, just be you!
There are many different strategies to connect with and talk to your teen. Try not to feel overwhelmed by all the things you *could* be doing, and instead just pick 1 or 2 things to try in the next week. It’s normal to have difficulty the first few times you try a new behavior, so try to be patient with yourself.
And don’t forget to have some fun!