How to Get Your Teen to Talk by Jen Hamilton Licensed Educational Psychologist
If you are like most parents, you are probably wondering how to get your teen to tell you what's going on in his or her life (or maybe your expectations have been adjusted slightly and you are just hoping for more than a grunt now and then!). While it is a normal turn of events for adolescents to suddenly become less communicative due to hormones, rapid shifts in brain growth and the very important development of independence, it can nevertheless be upsetting to feel that you may be losing connection with your child.
I recently attended a conference about motivational interviewing (MI), a very interesting topic in the field of psychology. The premise of MI is that there are some strategic ways to get people to talk such that they generate their own ideas; this is very helpful in motivating positive change. As I absorbed the information at the conference, I could not help but think about how these techniques might apply to parents who are hoping to get their teens to open up a bit.
In a nutshell, here are a few quick and easy ideas. First off, using open-ended questions will always provide a lot more information than "yes or no" questions. "Tell me about your practice" will likely yield a longer conversation than "Did you have a good practice?"
When your teen does talk, let your him know that you are really listening by not interrupting and by giving signals that you are attending to what he or she says. Small comments that reflect back to your teen that you understand what he or she is saying, without hijacking the conversation, are immensely helpful. Sometimes it is difficult not to interrupt, especially when you feel that you have an important lesson to impart. But don't do it! (The sad truth is that more often than not, kids tune these "lessons" out and will stop listening and talking.)
Perhaps the most important aspect of listening well so that your teen will talk is to listen for the essence of what he or she is saying. For example, if your daughter gets into the car with a list of complaints about her day, it may be tempting to chastise her for being negative, or to try to offer solutions to make each situation better. But instead of doing that, consider what it is that she is really saying to you. Listen carefully for the main thread of the conversation, and then respond to that. You might, after listening to her complaints, reflect back, "Wow, it sounds like your day was exhausting and that things really didn't seem to go your way." Then wait. She will most likely feel that you heard and understood her, and this may likely lead to more non-defensive communication.
Just as important as knowing how to talk to your child is letting them know that you are available and fully present. Put your phone aside and try to create a space that is conducive to talking. The commute to and from school is often a great time to talk; because you are not sitting face-to-face it can take some of the pressure off and make kids feel freer to open up a bit.
As with every aspect of teenage development, getting your kid to talk to you can be frustrating but also very rewarding when it goes well. If you would like to discuss any issues that might be going on in trying to communicate with your child, or any other concerning issues, please feel free to reach out to any member of the counseling department. You can contact me, (JHamilton0f@nobles.edu,) Mark Spence (MSpence0f@nobles.edu) or Mary Batty (MBatty0f@nobles.edu), and we'll be happy to set up a time to talk by phone or in person.