When was the last time your teenage son or daughter asked your opinion? Does your child listen to you and discuss life’s significant issues and difficulties? In other words, do you have meaningful, two-way dialogues, or does most of your communication tend to be one way?
I’ve found that the best way to build better communication with your teen is to find an activity you can participate in together and do so with all your might. Then, talk less yourself, so you don’t get in the way of what they may have to say.
Conversation naturally comes out of having fun together. This is especially true for boys, who seem to process life while they are involved in an activity of some sort. Talking less during these activity times may be difficult for you, but when it comes to getting teenagers to open up, you can’t shut up too much.
Our Heartlight counselors sometimes shoot pool, go for a walk, or play video games, grab a cup of coffee, or just “do” something with kids during their counseling sessions, and that is when the kids really open up. The application for your home is plain enough. If hunting is your child’s interest, go hunting. If riding horses is considered fun, then go horseback riding together. You may not learn how to skateboard, but you can build a ramp and run the video camera while your child does his thing.
The point is, if you participate in some activity with your teen that he or she really enjoys, you’ll find more opportunities to communicate while you are doing it together.
By the way, be sure to prevent distractions during your activity time. Don’t bring other friends or siblings along. Promise that you’ll turn off your phone if they do the same. And by all means, don’t announce the activity is for the purpose of having a talk. Just leave the space open and available while you are with them, to see what happens next. Then zip your lip, be quiet, and practice listening.
Your silence allows your child to fill the conversational void. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but that’s the point. In their discomfort, they’ll do the talking and say things they may not have said otherwise. So, if you quit talking, you will begin to gain some ground in connecting your child’s thinking.
Your teen may never have a long discussion with you; it may always be the instant message version. But listen carefully, because what is said will probably be short and you’ll have to do some reading between the lines and asking a few quick questions to clarify what they meant. This signifies that you are really listening and wanting to understand them.
What you say or how much you say is not even really that important. The important thing is to build an atmosphere where your child feels safe to share their thoughts and feelings.
The times a teenager will really listen to you are few and far between. But they’ll listen you more if you take time to listen to them.
Building good communication with your teen can start by participating in an activity your teen enjoys doing, and then using that time as an opportunity for you to listen, not talk.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.
Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs. The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.