“Hi, how’re you doing son?”
“How was school?”
Conversations with your young ones may not be the easiest to crack but patience and practice can help you win your teen’s confidence.
A study by the Council of Economic Advisors reveals that parental involvement is a major influence in helping teens avoid risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking, drug use, sexual activity, violence, and suicide. The study found that the prevalence of drinking is nearly twice as high among 15 to 16-year-olds who do not feel close to their parents, compared with those that do. According to the same study, simply eating regular meals as a family can drastically reduce risky behaviour among teens.
There is a fine balance that we as parents have to maintain between providing independence and guidance to our children. Yes, they do want us to be physically and emotionally available to them; but how?
1. Build exclusive time
Discuss with your teen and designate at least 60 minutes each day (from my experience of coaching teens and parents). The time will enable him/her to open up more with you.
You may spend time at home, or over a walk, or over dinner, or over an activity but please do take out that time.
Exclusive time is when you work on creating a bond between each other, with no mobile phones, laptops and a non-judgemental mindset.
2. Avoid judging yourself
Am I being a good parent? Will she become shy like I was during my childhood? Am I responsible for my son’s poor grades? He doesn’t open up to me because my conduct is not right.
Before interacting with your teen, communicate with yourself. Look within. We meet so many people in a day, and create so many influences on us in the form of biases, beliefs and anxieties. Practise meditation or listen to music or do whatever you love doing, and uncage yourself from any thoughts you have created about yourself with respect to your son or daughter.
You are a parent doing your best to make your teen a great human being. Create that self-assurance before talking to your child.
3. Avoid judging your teen
Take a backseat and listen. It is so easy for us to jump to conclusions and advice.
Teenage life is not easy. They are opening up to a new world, new situations, hormonal changes and so much more.
Your son/daughter wants you to be their sounding board. Use powerful questioning. Instead of asking “How was school today?”, you may ask “What was the best thing about school today?”, “What is the funniest incident that happened today?”
Connect to them. Be their friend.
They may come up with things you are not comfortable with. Respond to them, do not react.
Your son is trying to talk to you. “You know Papa, today this classmate of mine bunked school.” Even before he finishes you may say, “Bunking is bad, you should not be friends with that boy at all.” If you react like this, your child might take this reaction very personally. You never even let him complete the sentence.
First, listen to him and understand what he is trying to say by getting into his shoes. We have a beautiful word for it — Empathy. Exercise the same and see the wonders. Avoid giving them a lecture and work on having a conversation. From discussing small things with you, slowly, when he faces a difficult situation, he will come to you and not anybody else. It will prevent him from getting into finding other sources, all of which may not be for his good.
Make your home a ‘safe to talk’ zone.
4. Appreciate and acknowledge
Focus on positive communication. Teenagers want to be seen, heard, recognized and acknowledged.
If your son/daughter comes to you and says “Papa, I did not become the head boy/girl of my school”, you may reply: “I understand you are not happy about it but I heard your speech, you spoke so well.”
Now you have captured your son/daughter’s attention. He/she is ready to express himself/herself. You appreciated his/her speaking skills. At times, you may also repeat what he/she is saying, just to make him/her ponder over what they just said, so that they may be able to understand themselves better, build their own opinions and take rational decisions on their own.
You may also give genuine compliments to your children regularly when they dress well or when they put in genuine effort (even if the result is not positive) or about the choices they make.
Appreciation and acknowledgement will go a long way in helping you establish a deep connection with your young one.
5. Respect the closed door
Teenagers spend much of their time figuring out who they are, and who they want to become. They have a lot of things going on their minds and they need some space. I would like to advise parents to respect their privacy.
When parents push too much, the teen might just stop talking to them at all.
The need for privacy does not always mean they have something to hide. I have a young client who says: “My mom is too nagging. When I want my space and I am in my room, she keeps questioning me. It is like she is interfering with my independence. I love her and I’ll speak to her but not right now.”
By closing doors, your teen is creating a space to learn how to take control of his life and to be responsible. Just trust the values you have imbibed in your child.
Keep your door open so that s/he can come to you whenever they have something to discuss.
However, as parents, it is also our responsibility to ensure our child is safe.
If you see the door locked for a prolonged time, it is time to talk to your child without being judgmental. Just tell him/her: “I am worried about you and as your father/mother I am still responsible for you. I am here only to listen to you. Your concern is my concern. Please share what you are struggling with.”
This will help in deepening the connection you share with your teen.
If you apply the 5 ways of communicating with your teen, you’ll be amazed how the two of you can really transform your relationship. Could anything be better than that?