Tips for Talking to Your Teen
Many parents turn to lecturing to reach their teens. But lecturing doesn’t get you very far — and it usually backfires.
“Lecturing is one-way communication,” said clinical psychologist and parenting expert John Duffy, PhD. “Teens today do not respond to lecturing, in large part because they feel unheard and disrespected.”
Duffy sees this as a good thing. Parents want their kids to insist on being heard and respected by others.
Lecturing also prevents parents from learning about their kids and their lives, he said. It can lead to assumptions and misconceptions. “Lecturing consists of too much talking, and not nearly enough listening.”
Plus, as Duffy tells parents, your kids already know what you’re going to say. “In all likelihood, they can recite it nearly verbatim, perhaps even mocking your gestures… They know how you feel.”
So if lecturing isn’t helpful, then what is? Duffy encourages parents and teens to have “two-sided, discussion-based relationships,” and to be curious about getting to know each other. This leads to genuine respect and love, he said.
Below, Duffy discussed the communication strategies that do work and help you connect to your child.
“The most powerful device I encourage parents to use is to say 25 percent of the words you intend to say,” Duffy said. That’s because what parents say can become white noise to teens. However, being thoughtful increases the chances that you’ll actually be heard, he said.
Ask open-ended questions.
Instead of asking, “How was school today?” say, “Tell me about school today,” Duffy said. Another example is: “Show me how Instagram — or Twitter, or Facebook, or SnapChat, or whatever — works. What do you and your friends use it for?”
Minimize critical talks.
“Make sure that only a small amount of your conversation with your teen is about what he or she is doing wrong, or needs to change,” said Duffy, author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. Teens tend to be insecure – even if they’re arrogant, he said. So it helps when they hear you say positive things about them, “coming from an authentic place in you.”
Get to know your teen.
Duffy suggested approaching your child with curiosity and openness, and asking them questions without having an agenda. Not sure where to start?
“[G]rab one of their earbuds and ask what they’re listening to, and why. Watch her favorite show with her, or some YouTube videos.” But be sure to avoid judging your teen and their preferences. Instead, focus on listening and learning, he said.
“Don’t judge your child, or his friends or peers, in regard to their core essence, their character,” Duffy said. Doing so creates a division between you and your child. They may assume “you just don’t understand me or us.” “It’s OK to disapprove of actions, but not of people.”
“To parent a teen most effectively, you have to understand yourself, and your own family of origin really well,” Duffy said. For instance, if you’re regularly getting angry, frustrated or disappointed with your child, delve deeper. “[A]sk yourself whether that emotion is derivative of your own baggage.”
Duffy has worked with many dads who tried to live vicariously through their sons. He’s worked with moms who expected their daughters to make certain teams or lead certain clubs because they did the same (or didn’t). He’s worked with parents competing with their own siblings to have the most accomplished kids for bragging rights with their parents.
“All of this is patently unhealthy, as it serves your needs, not your child’s. This is a tough type of self-analysis to perform, but it’s really important for a clean communication through-line to your child.”
Talk to your teen like you don’t know them.
For instance, treat your teen like your neighbor or cousin’s daughter, Duffy said. This helps you get out of a poor communication rut, he said. Plus, you might even approach your teen more thoughtfully and with more kindness, he said.
Duffy stressed the importance of playing with your teen, which is something many parents stop doing once their child reaches adolescence. “Because we parents are fearful about our teens’ futures, perhaps more image-driven, and judgmental, we don’t laugh, share and play.”
For instance, an hour before bed, Duffy and his 18-year-old son watch TV, laugh, sing and do ridiculous voices. “From the outside, we might look wildly irresponsible and foolish, but we know what we’re doing. Along with enjoying each other’s company — not a bad thing unto itself — we’re connecting.”
Of course, there will be plenty of days when you’ll want to talk to your teen, but they won’t. “This happens frequently with teens, and that’s OK. Too many parents feel they have failed some test if their teen doesn’t talk openly to them, and this is simply not true,” Duffy said.
Instead, the key is to make sure your child knows that you’re available to talk when they’re ready. This is very comforting to teens, even if they don’t recognize it, he said.
Again, the best way to connect to your teen is by being curious, open and available. “I know a lot of teenagers, and they’re all amazing and insightful people. But you have to ask, listen and pay attention to get to know them.”
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Tips for Talking to Your Teen. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 9, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/01/03/tips-for-talking-to-your-teen/