As your darling child chatterbox moves into the adolescent phase of development, you might notice a significant decline in the number of syllables they utter. Grunting seems to answer all manner of questions from “How was your day?” to “Would you like pizza tonight?”.
It’s natural to feel anxious about this, especially as the change can seem to have happened overnight (similar to the suddenly-grown-out-of-all-clothing phenomenon). It’s hard to get used to and can be isolating for an otherwise involved parent. You may end up desperately Googling for advice on how to keep your teen talking because you feel like they are drifting away and you want to keep them close.
Take heart. Your once-talkative, funny, noisy little person will return – though somewhat more mature – but for now they are figuring themselves out and want to do this alone (or at least, without adult involvement). Adolescence is a time for individuating, where they start to test their own (and maybe yours, your extended family’s, the school’s) boundaries. It is an important process and this is what allows our kids to develop into autonomous adults (eventually).
Tactics to Keep Your Teen Talking
In the meantime, you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are ways to get your teen talking even when they aren’t arguing with you! You just have to be a little less direct about it. The days of sitting on your kid’s bed and asking if everything is okay are probably gone, and you need to be more subtle to get your teen to open up.
Remember though, just as some adults are more talkative than others, so are some teens, so don’t be disappointed if you try these out and find that you only achieve marginally more than the standard grunt. In general terms, females are more chatty than males so you might have a little more success with your daughter than with your son.
Keep Conversations Casual with your Teenager
It is important to keep your conversations casual so that your kid doesn’t feel bombarded, trapped, coerced or otherwise controlled whilst you try to get them to talk.
You can avoid them feeling this way by not directly looking into their eyes (this also can work for couples who are trying to get a marriage back on track but are having some communication difficulties). Talking in the car, talking while walking the dog or doing some other activity together is a great way to diffuse the intensity of a conversation. As you walk into their room, ostensibly to drop off some laundry, you can casually ask how things are with them and as you are not focused directly on them, you may find you get a response beyond “fine”.
Have Topical Conversations with your Teenager
Although television during a meal is a no-no for many families, watching an intelligent program that is discussing current affairs can be helpful in starting a conversation around the table and getting your teen talking. Discussing current issues is one way our kids can learn to see things from different perspectives. As teens tend to be black and white in their thinking (this usually softens to allow in shades of grey as they grow into adults), your moderating voice can show them another way to view things.
You’ll also find out a lot more about your teenager’s internal world by listening to their thoughts on the current topic. They may even tell you about other conversations they have had at school around it, which gives you great insight into how they are seeing things.
It is vital that they don’t feel judged, so if you disagree perhaps you could gently do so as you would at a polite dinner party – with tact and respect for the other person. Acknowledge your teen’s perspective first, with openness and curiosity, before offering an opposing view. This will give your child the confidence to state their opinion with you, even if it is not the same as yours. (I am sure they are adept at this when it comes to many things like going out, staying up, doing homework, but we are talking about their thoughts on the world around them here.)
Practice Active Listening with your Teenager
If you find your teen is starting to talk about something that is important to them, try to listen and not react or respond too hastily. Let them finish. Tell them you are glad they told you about it and ask if they would like you to do something or if they would like to hear what you would do in that situation? Get them to invite you into their world but hold back on the judgement (I didn’t say it would be easy) and let them take the lead.
Remember when they were little and learning to do something like a jigsaw puzzle and you could see exactly how to do it but you let them figure it out while you watched and guided when they asked you to? Well, this is similar.
Allow your Teenager to Decide When They Need Your Help
What helps teens navigate those difficult years (remember them? They were not always fun were they?) is to know you are there and ready to listen and help when they want it and that they can invite you in when they need you. It can help to offer a statement – casually of course – along the lines of “I am here if you ever need to tell me something or ask me a question.” You’ve let them know where help is, but you are not intruding on their lives – that is how they see it. Again, remember your teen years?
When trying to figure out how to keep your teen talking, the thing to have at the forefront of your mind is that they are on the cusp of adulthood. As the parent of a teenager you must allow them the room to figure things out for themselves and make mistakes if necessary so they can learn and grow. Although a big part of you wants to keep nurturing your baby, it’s time to step back a little and support their growing independence.
This can be really difficult to do, and I am not suggesting that you let them decide if they can go to an unsupervised party or not, but perhaps they can decide if they will go to a family gathering or not, after you have also said your piece about it. You have to pick the thing that feels a little uncomfortable for you, but not too bad, and is not going to be life-altering for them if they make the “wrong” choice. Take the middle path.
Do you find it hard to keep your teen talking? What approaches have worked for you?
Are you having difficulties parenting your teenager? Therapy may help. Book an appointment with The Bondi Psychologist now.