“How was your day?” That is a very straight-forward question to ask a teen to get a conversation going. What’s the usual response that parents receive? “Ok!”….a one word answer, and that’s it. Nothing else. Your teen proceed to head towards their bedroom and then close the door. Closing parents out of their lives.
How do parents remove that barrier between themselves and their teen? Let’s explore some strategies,with the understanding that these strategies come with a different mindset, parents. The first change that must occur is that parents should, and the emphasis is on that word-should- avoid asking yes or no questions. When parents do, the appropriate response from a teen or anyone else is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example:
Parent: “Did you eat lunch at school today?”
Teen: “Nope.” or “Yeah.”
You asked for it, and if the aim is to engage in a meaningful discussion, without probing or preaching, the approach must change. The best times to talk with your teen is during quiet moments. First, do some reflecting on your own. Think about how you feel about the subject you wish to discuss. Be honest with yourself, and you can be honest with your teen.
Parents matter. So, even when you think you don’t, you still do matter. What parents say and do make a difference. Research shows that nearly four in 10 teens [38 percent] report that parents greatly influence their decision about sex, compared to 22 percent reporting that friends influence their decision. Take advantage of those precious teachable moments.
A great way to start conversations is to ask, “What do you think about…?”, which might be:
- A peer or family member found out she’s pregnant
- You learn that a friend is using drugs
- You want to discuss life after high school[college plans]
If your son or daughter answers, “I don’t know” or similar, say, “Let me tell you how I feel [or what I think] about ‘that’.” Don’t try to lecture. Just make that your starting point, and begin talking about your views. Share your thoughts with them, in order that they know where you are coming from. Just don’t give a sermon. That is one sure way to have a teen tune you out.
Teens say that they are uncomfortable talking about sex with parents because they fear that their parents will believe that they will do whatever ‘it’ is. They are afraid that you all will ‘freak out’ if they are totally honest with you about such sensitive areas. You may freak out, but keep it all inside. Remain calm and maintain your cool.
- Be present and ‘in the moment’. It is understood that parents have busy lives outside of the home, and also in the home. Clear them out of your head. Don’t drift away. Stay focused. Do listen actively to let your teen know you hear every word.
- Be sympathetic. Let your teen know that you can understand how challenging life is for them and you, too. He or she may not really believe that you can relate to their lives or challenges. They think that parents are ‘square’. Help them understand that you understand the pressures as an adolescent, and to them, they seem like a lot. Encourage your teen to focus on and prioritize school and other priorities.
- Stress safety. No matter how you feel about sex or even drugs, safety is an important part of the message that you send to them. On sex, stress the necessity to use protection, like condoms, and to use them every time. Stress for girls, the use of birth control, and if your teen is already sexually active or considering, don’t hesitate to accompany your child to a physician[gynecologist] or consent to birth control. Better proactive and safe than an early grandparent.
- Furnish them with facts. Give your teen complete and honest information. Be certain to emphasize that condoms as a form of birth control isn’t just about preventing unwanted pregnancies, but condoms reduce the likelihood of STDs and HIV.
- Talk; don’t preach. You must resist the urge to lecture and relate information that you believe are important for your teen by preaching, and using the ‘don’t’ word improperly. Don’t talk AT them or TO them, but WITH them. Give time for your teen to digest and process your messages, while pausing between major points. Allow your teen to ask questions, or make comments, give their opinions. It is, after all, a conversation that you desire. You want to hear their views, thoughts and feelings. In so doing, your discussion remains relevant for them.
- Have regular ‘discussions’. Don’t identify a perfect moment and treat it as though it is your only chance to talk together with your teen. Talking to your teen is an ongoing conversation, taking place in bits and pieces over time. Never one big talk.
Once again, your teen does want to hear from you, and that requires the right approach. Meanwhile, spend time with your teen, watching TV together. Recognize that 75% of prime-time programming contains sexual content, yet only 14% mention risks or responsibilities of sexual activity.
Media should matter, and eight in 10 teens say that media is a good way to start conversations with parents. While watching TV, talk about the characters and the subject matter. You will learn a lot about your teen. Use this as a conversation starter. Talking about a character is a great way to begin discussions, as it shifts focus away from your teen.
On your commute, have talks while in the car. You are in private space and there need not be eye contact. As a matter of fact, your teen, although listening to music or looking out the car window, is still listening to you. Try texting your teen, too. The average teen sends and receives about 50 messages each day, but makes and receives only five phone calls. That is the new norm. Take advantage of texting. Send follow-up messages to your teen to reinforce what you talked about. Don’t worry about emojis and jargon-just text the way you talk. Above all else, keep talking and keep the conversations going.