Don’t despair if teens won’t talk

by Jan Faull Most teens don't talk to parents. The intimacies of their lives they share with friends. If you ask   teenagers about school they say, "Fine." If you ask about friends, teachers or activities, you get the same pat answer. Usually our teens are doing fine, but this distance teens keep frustrates us. We want more information and details about what?s going on in their lives. All of a sudden, we're not included; they shut us out, keep us at a distance. Why? In grade school, children chat on and on about the particulars of their day, but not anymore. Is there anything we can do so they'll converse more? First of all it's important to understand a little about adolescent development and then learn some communication tips that might open up conversation between you and your teen. In adolescence, kids begin the final push toward independence. Their developmental alarm clock tells them that  they've got to break away from parents if they're going to stand alone as adults. Closing parents out of conversation is one way teens exaggerate this break. Teens work to clarify their new independent personality; they believe by keeping to themselves they?re operating separately. But the truth is, they still need us parents for nurturing, just realize that the secrets of their lives they only reveal to peers. There's another truth involved here, too: If your son senses you desperately desire hearing the details and secrets of his life, he'll probably be all the more excited to shut you out. So accept the fact that your teen daughter or son is going to keep lots from you these days and respect their need for privacy. There is simply no way to force them to open up. Rather than bursting through the front door begging teens to talk, sneak in the back door with some effective  communication skills and you just might hear more. But proceed cautiously. If your teens suspect you have now gained some cutesy communication techniques, this might turn them off all the more. So be casual. Relax. And then try these ideas:

When your daughter comes in the kitchen after school or before bed to chow down on snacks, sit down with her. Have a snack yourself. This just says, "I'm here, I'm available."

Now don't start pumping her about her day, rather tell about yours. Let her in on some sticky situation that?s happening at work or some juicy family or neighborhood gossip.

Another tactic: Ask your teenage son for advice about a younger sibling. Tell him how this youngster is driving you crazy. Reveal some private concern you?re having. Don't expect him to show lots of interest; just tell him without any expectation. He'll do the same.

Another important skill to master is "completing the cycle of the conversation." For example, your daughter comes home and says, "Mom, Jenny wore the ugliest outfit to school today; she looked absolutely ridiculous."

Don't make any of these comments:

  • It's not nice to criticize people's clothes.
  • I can't believe you're criticizing Jenny's clothes, considering some of the outfits you put together.
  • I hope you didn't laugh at her or say something mean.
  • I'm surprised at you; Jenny's your friend.
  • If you only notice her clothes, she won't be your friend for long.

Any of these statements stop the conversation. Instead say, "She did? What did she have on?" This simple line says, "I heard what you said; I'm interested, and I want to hear more." It keeps the conversation going. Try these tips, but if your teen still resists conversation, with you, respect this. Conversation with teens is totally on their terms. It's important to realize part of what you're experiencing is a loss in the relationship you once had with your son or  daughter. Young teens go overboard to prove this independence. At the end of the adolescent years, they find a balance; they're able to live their own life but are no longer threatened to have you included. Reprinted with permission of Jan Faull, from the Bellevue Journal American, Feb. 21, 1994. Jan Faull is a child development and behavior specialist with a master's degree from the University of Washington. She is a parent education instructor, seminar leader and guest speaker to groups concerned with the parenting process from toddlerhood to adolescence. Parents who would like to submit questions to her may write: Jan Faull, Child  Development and Behavior Specialist, 321 Burnett Ave. South, Suite 403, Renton, WA 98055