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Getting your teen to talk

Teens sometimes clam up when their parents try to get them to talk. Prompting our kids to let us into their lives may mean stepping outside our world and going into theirs. Here are a few expert tips to get the conversation flowing, naturally.


Notice teenagers without criticizing

Dr. James Sutton, a Child and Adolescent Psychologist and author of several books, including The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child, shares strategies to help parents encourage their teen to talk.

Dr. Sutton suggests parents practice something he calls noncritical noticing, which is “the capacity to notice and affirm our kids and what they are doing without them feeling like we are being critical. We don’t have to be critical for a youngster to feel that we are, which requires some skill on our part.”

Avoid trying to talk if your teen is distracted

Try talking to kids when they’re not distracted by homework, TV, texting or online worlds, suggests Dr. Sutton. A good time to get your child’s undivided attention is while driving or at night when she’s settling into bed.

More on communicating with your teen >>

Spend time together in an activity your teen likes

Spending time in an activity your teenager enjoys puts you into her world and may encourage a natural conversation, explains Dr. David Dawson, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and author of The Adolescent Owner’s Manual. “Get them off the stage,” he suggests, “away from the cauldron of interminable peer negotiation. Perhaps that is shooting hoops, or pool, or preparing a meal or going shopping together, or by allowing them to show you, teach you, help you with something.”

Allow time for your child to relax into herself

Asking your child about her day, even with pin-pointed questions like how she did on her Algebra test or if so-and-so is still her friend, should prompt communication, but it isn’t quite so simple.

Teens aren’t chameleons, explains Dr. Dawson, they can’t instantly move in and out of the role they’ve had to play with their peers all day.

More on how to communicate with your teen >>

In his article, Talking With Your Teenager, Dr. Dawson writes, “When you make the simple enquiry, ‘How was your day?’ it is a loaded question. To answer requires breaking character, standing apart and observing self. Your daughter is not Sir Lawrence Olivier. She can’t slip in and out of character that easily. Yet to stay in character whilst talking with mom and dad might bring about ridicule. Better to duck the question, avoid the encounter altogether, or failing that, provoke an argument, than slam the bedroom door, or storm out of the house.”

Essential tips to talk to teenagers

While there are plenty of creative ways to encourage your teen to open up, Dr. Dawson suggests a few essentials that can up the odds of having a two-way conversation. “Perhaps you don’t have the time and resources (or inclination) to take your son rough camping twice a year, or your daughter for three weeks vacation sans cell phone and iPod,” he writes, “But to increase the chance they will talk to you try this: a non-judgmental attitude, a non-interrogative context, take the time, listen, wait and be slow to offer advice.”

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