If the premise of having an actual conversation with your teenager sounds like science fiction, you’re not alone. For one thing, getting his or her attention can be a feat in itself, what with all the vitally important things that are obviously going on in the handheld world of Twitter, Snapchat, and all other social media.
And once you do get your son or daughter to look up from the screen, you ask an innocent question and get a one-word response, an “I can’t believe you interrupted me for this” eye roll, or an indecipherable grunt.
What is it about being a teenager that makes your beloved and once-chatty child turn into someone who can’t be bothered to say a complete sentence in your presence? Well, hormones are partly to blame. So is the fact that the teenage brain has a tendency to turn in on itself and be so consumed with what’s going on inside it that there’s no attention to spare for anyone or anything else — least of all a parent who has suddenly and clearly become unbearably stupid or unreasonable or both.
No one said being a teenager — or dealing with one — was easy, even in the best of times. But add to that a behavioral or learning disorder, an emotional issue, an addiction, or just growing up in a world that’s constantly changing under one’s feet, and times can be really rocky for a teen and, consequently, for the whole family.
Understanding, support, and a lot of patience on your part is all that some kids need to get through the bad times. But some teenagers need extra help because the turmoil inside and around them leads to behavioral issues and substance abuse, and some problems need more than you can handle yourself.
There are many resources for school and outside counseling, and if the situation warrants it, you might even consider a school for troubled teens that offers continuing education along with professional therapies and guidance to help your son or daughter through a rough patch.
Meanwhile, as you make your way through the teenage years, here are some suggestions to help start a conversation and keep it going:
Ask a Neutral Question
There must be some topics you may genuinely not know a thing about and some you may just want to know your teen’s opinion of. Pick a time when the two of you are alone, maybe when you’re driving in the car, and open with something like “Hey, tell me what hip-hop music is all about.” If you’re met with a groan, persist a bit. “No, I’d really like to know. You and your friends like it so much that I want to know what the deal is.” Then really listen to what your son or daughter says.
Ask follow-up questions and don’t jump in with judgments. You’ll learn something not only about the subject, but about your child, too. And your teen will learn – or remember – that the two of you can actually talk about something that’s not homework or curfews.
Take It Easy
The natural thing for a parent is to dig until you get to the bottom of things. What were you doing in there? What did you mean when you said that? Why are you going, why are you wearing that, why, why, why? Of course you’re concerned about your teen’s safety and well-being, but not everything has to be the subject of a grand inquisition.
Remember what it was like when you were that age and trying to find your own separate place in the world. It’s easy to make a teen feel invaded and put him or her on the defensive that cuts off any chance of a real conversation. When it’s not a matter of life and limb, try a little live and let live.
Keep Your Cool
We’ve all got hot buttons, and your teen certainly knows what yours are. In fact, using them puts him or her in control instead of the other way around. If you don’t react to the comments that usually send you over the edge, you’ve removed the incentive to make them.
Give Your Teen Some Credit
You’re the grownup and it’s up to you to set the rules. There are going to be some hard and fast ones that don’t bear discussion, but even with those, “Because I’m your mother and I said so,” should only be the court of last resort. Give your adult-to-be some respect and credit for being able to understand your reasoning. He or she may not agree, but at least will know you didn’t make up the rule out of the blue.
For good tips on how to talk about some difficult subjects, read this article from cnn.com.