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How to talk to teenagers

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Bonding with your teen

You used to have such a close relationship with your son or daughter. They would tell you everything. But then these funny things called hormones started coming into play. They talked less, they rolled their eyes more, they became different beasts. They became teenagers. And communication became so much harder.

Tween Girl and Mom

At this age when they think they know everything, when they push you away daily, when they are trying so hard to figure out this netherworld between child and adult, they still need you. Just because they stop talking to you regularly doesn't mean you should stop talking to them. Or at them. They may be resistant, but take every opportunity you can to continue to communicate your values, your concerns, your feelings - even when it feels completely futile.

They still need you

Do you remember what a confusing time adolescence was? Everything was changing. You body, expectations, social structure - everything. Home was your stability. You needed it, even if sometimes it felt stifling. It's the same way for your child. It wasn't always easy. Even if you were very close to your parents, there was a part of you that was pulling away. This was a very normal part of the process of becoming your own person, of moving out into the world. This is what you are trying to navigate with your own child.

No matter what your child declares, no matter what the issue, they still need you - just as you still needed your family.

Keep trying

There are no wasted efforts when it comes to talking to you child about any and all issues. It may not go as expected, but it is not a wasted effort. It could be one of the big issues, like drugs or sex - or it could be a smaller one, like how did that math test go. Sometimes it's not even about either of you - just talking about a funny billboard you say or an interesting article you saw in the paper on an environmental effort a couple of towns over could be the opening to a broader discussion about other bigger community issues. Not every talk with your child - not every effort to have a dialogue, a relationship - is about the big talks and personal issues.

They're listening, hopefully hearing

When the conversation - one sided or not - does delve into the "issues" sometimes you just have to talk AT your child - without crossing into lecture, hopefully. You may only get grunts back, but you have to keep saying the important things: how you feel about drug and alcohol use and why, concerns about a physical relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, community social issues, or any one of a number of topics. Keep it to the point. You have to keep communicating your values and what you hope to instill in them. Teenagers do hear this, even if they don't always act on it. And you have to keep saying it.

Keep doors and ears open

You never know when you adolescent will be willing to open up and talk to you. It may be late at night. It may be in the car on the way home from a friend's house. It may be when you are late for work! It could be anywhere, any time. Keep your ears open to the signs that they want to talk - and let them. As much as you talk at them at other times, remember to listen when they want to talk.

Continuing the conversation with teenagers is challenging. Now doubt about that. Keep trying. It's a reassurance that you will both make it through this very tumultuous time.

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