Have a teenager? Maybe you don't have one yourself, but you have a niece or nephew who is at this wonderfully tumultuous time in her life. How do you get her talking? While one-word answers might be fine on some days, it is important to get to know what is going on with your teenager so you can keep her safe and guide her through tough situations (without being too much of a control freak or nuisance!).
Stop talking. You may be thinking, "Wait! But I have so much to tell her!" And while that may be true, and you may have a wealth of information for her, you need to know what she needs from you right now. If you tell her how to deal with test anxiety when she is struggling with how to approach her first big date, you will be wasting your breath and missing a great opportunity. So first things first – don't start talking until you have given her a chance to talk. Ask, "What happened in school today?" And let her talk. Wait for more than the one-word answer.
Have patience. Want her to tell you everything you want to know as soon as she walks through the door? Think about that for a minute. How do you feel when your boss jumps on you as soon as you get in to work? Give her some time to relax, have a snack, and get settled.
Keep your judgments to yourself. While it is easy to listen to your teen vent and totally agree, "Yes, Jennifer is really mean, I never liked her either. I am so relieved you have finally seen the light and have stopped hanging out with her," watch out! The enemy on Thursday may again become the BFF by Friday (and if that is the case, be prepared for those comments to be thrown back at you during the next argument you have with your teen). Instead of judging her friends, you can definitely agree that certain behaviors of her friends don't seem very nice or like good ideas. You can certainly give suggestions on how to handle certain situations. But steer clear of judging them in the heat of the moment, or dictating how she must handle situations.
Take a trip down memory lane. Remember what it was like to be a teenager? Not fun. The highs and lows are honest highs and lows, even though they seem like total drama to adults. Remember that teens aren't equipped to cope with these situations – all of these experiences are brand new. Appreciate how difficult it is for a teen to be left out of a party, broken up with, made fun of, fail her first class. This is all new, and she is building the experience we as adults already have behind us.
Forget about performance, and focus on the journey. Are you a parent who is full of the following comments: "Make sure you do well on the test today!" "What was your grade on that test?" "Did you win?" Instead, think about asking or commenting about the effort your teen has put into things. "You seem to be studying really hard for the history test. Nice work, but make sure you take a break!" "Did you have fun after school today?" Put less stress on the outcome, and more emphasis on what steps she takes to get there.
Relax. Stop with the urgency. Although the years go by quickly, stop thinking about what is next and always planning for the next thing. Enjoy the day, and be present with your teen. Sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses and appreciate those roses for where they are in the moment. Watch a cheesy movie with your teen. Giggle over board games. Just having fun can be great for your relationship!
Try these tips. See if you connect more with your teen. It is amazing how a patient, non-judgmental approach can help your teen open up and see that you care about her day-to-day life, not just which college she is going to or how she will perform at her next volleyball match.
For over 10 years, Erin A. Munroe, a licensed mental health counselor and author, has been working with families on the issues that arise when a child is growing up. As the adults in the world, we need to demonstrate to our children how to appropriately cope with the world and succeed in life while still laughing and enjoying it. Information on Erin and her books can be found at ErinMunroe.com.