Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Getting Your Teen To Talk: The Art Of Pulling Teeth

Why oh why won't my teen talk to me? I think the answer is that you are mostly asking questions. Talking, or having conversation implies the reciprocality of communication. In most parent/teen conversations, you are asking questions, or giving lectures, neither of which are very appealing to your teen. If you honestly take stock of your most recent communications with your teen, I'm guessing they mostly start with: "How was your day? How much homework do you have? Did you meet with your teacher after school? How was practice? Did you empty the dishwasher, bring your clothes down to the basement, or conversly, did you bring your clean clothes up from the basement? etc etc etc

The lecture "conversation" is also pretty one-sided. "You know....if you only...fill in the blank for your most recent words of wisdom. 

Your teens are so programmed to expect one of those types of conversations, that they literally have shut down before they even enter the house. Add to those expectations are their emotional exhaustion at the end of their day. They have had to use an enormous amount of psychic energy all through the day to keep up whatever persona they are invested in presenting to the world. As teens develop a personal identity they are incredibly invested in presenting "a self" that will attract the kind of attention the will reinforce their very vulnerable self that they are OK. By the time they get home, they just want to shut off. Unfortunately, just when they want to shut off, is when you want to turn on. You have been planning your "agenda" all day on the topics to be "discussed" as soon as they walk in the door. Unfortunately your timing could not be worse. 

The best conversations you will have with your teen are the ones that are unplanned and catch them by surprise. Don't hit them up as soon as they walk in the door, or like Jeremy's mom you will be literally pulling the words out of their mouth. And the more resistent they become, the angrier you get, and usually some kind of argument ensues.

Instead of expecting them to be the answer bank, how about starting off a conversation about your day. Maybe it was a hard, or frustrating one, and sharing your experience and honesty might make it easier for them to reciprocate. Instead of starting a question or answer period as soon as they walk in the door, give them a hello and leave it at that. Perhaps at dinner or on a laundry run into their room, you flop down on their bed, and say: "god I had such a frustrating day, my boss was driving me crazy, how bout you? How was your day? If you start by sharing something about yourself first, you might 
find an opening.

And finally, the best piece of advice I can give you is the following: "It is not what you say, but how you say it!"  Your teen's hearing is especially atuned to the sound of your voice. If they hear even a smidgen of judgement, or criticism in your voice, you can count on an acute case of deafness! Saying in a neutral, friendly voice: hey buddy, how was your day, like you would ask a friend has a way better chance of getting answered. Asking that same question in a serious parenty voice will get you silence. 

Practice your voice, it will make all the difference....I promise!

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