It’s frustrating to ask a teen a question and only get a one or two-word answer such as, “I dunno,” “huh?” or, “no way!” Then when they finally do respond, he or she may explode in rage and slam the door. Parents struggle with knowing what to do. God commands parents to, “not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). What can a parent do? When trying to talk to a teen, there are some strategies to keep in mind.
Timing is everything.
A parent needs to choose the right time to talk. It’s not uncommon for a teen to respond with one-word answers—it may be that they are stressed and overwhelmed. Instead of reacting with anger, wait until the next day. When a teen is ready, they will. A good time to connect is when they have calmed down.
Limit the lectures.
Research shows that lecturing, scolding, and nagging teens don’t inspire cooperation. A teen brain has little attention span. So, lecturing will do nothing. Limit talks to a few minutes at a time—have conversations in bite-sized pieces.
Be curious, not furious.
It’s easy for parents to react, especially when a teen is emotional. There are four things a parent can do:
- Repeat back what they say.
- Ask questions to understand more.
- Validate feelings, and respond with empathy.
Ask open-ended questions.
Asking questions that can be answered with yes or no answers is not the best way to get a teen to talk. Avoid “why” questions as these can come off as judgmental. Instead, say “I want to understand; will you tell me more about what happened?”
Tone is vital.
If a parent is upset when they talk to a teen, they need to take a break. It’s important to calm down, and take a deep breath. At times, it may be necessary to wait until the next day when emotions are under control.
Have fun together.
Not every discussion with a teen needs to be heavy. Lighten up—have some fun. After all, it’s good for teens to step away from their computer or phone and get some movement in. Go shopping. Watch a movie. Enjoy a sporting event. Have fun at an amusement park. Some of the best conversations happen when it is least expected.
Focus on feelings.
Let’s face it: The adolescent years are some of the hardest. Parents should not dismiss a teen’s feelings. Instead, ask, “How do you feel?” A teen may have a hard time expressing emotions. Here’s a tip: Have a list of feeling words on the refrigerator for teens to refer to. Then, listen with care and concern.
Use love and logic.
Parenting a teen is a balance of love and logic. Dragging a 16-year-old teen out of bed does nothing to motivate them a few years later in college. However, a system of rewards and consequences helps teens make decisions that benefit them. Successfully parenting a teen means he or she wants to be responsible.
Talking with teens doesn’t have to be exasperating. By making a few changes, a parent can learn the best ways to connect with their teen. To find a counselor who works with teens and parents, call 800-NEW-LIFE.