Sometimes talking to your teenage son or daughter can feel like talking to a wall. They don’t seem to listen — you just can’t get through to them. It can be extremely frustrating. There are, however, a few things you can do that will help you have a calm, intelligent conversation with your child. The most important thing to remember is that you should never talk down to them. If you lecture and act judgmental, you put them on the defensive and create a communication barrier. Don’t approach the situation as a lecture — engage in conversation as you would with any adult. If you follow that simple guideline you will find it much easier to have a calm, respectful exchange with your child.
1) Give your child advance notice of your conversation. Tell your child that you’d like to talk with them later and let them know what the topic will be. No one likes to be blind-sided, and there’s no better way to put a teenager on the defensive than surprising them with a conversation about what they did wrong.
2) Feed your child before you talk with them. We all know how cranky people can be when they’re hungry, and trying to have a serious conversation with a teen who’s already in a bad mood is a mistake.
3) Walk while you talk. Walking keeps a person engaged and alert. It also reduces the amount of eye contact in a conversation. Excessive eye contact can feel like a challenge, and can cause a teenager to feel defensive.
4) Start your interaction with understanding. Let your teenage child know that you understand that they are going through a rough time, let them know that they are not alone in what they are going through and that you will help any way you can.
5) Be honest about your feelings. Don’t tell your teen that you’re hurt when you’re really angry — they can tell when you aren’t telling the truth and it will compromise everything else you have to say.
6) Don’t let your emotions take over. If you get angry and begin to shout, you’ll accomplish nothing. It’s important to remember that, if your teen becomes emotional and says hurtful things, it isn’t really personal, they’re just acting out.
7) Try to keep it brief. We have a tendency to overstate our point. Also, condense what you have to say into a few key talking points, then allow your child to state their opinion. It’s best to say what you have to say and allow them to respond before they say “OK, I get it!”
8) Respect your child’s opinion, and try to understand their point of view. Listen to their argument and try to be understanding. Let them know that you understand what they are saying.
9) Don’t try to sound like a teenager. If you try to talk like one of their friends, you’ll ruin your own credibility in the conversation. You are an adult and your child is well aware of this. Sound like an adult — your position will be more genuine and more effective.
10) Calm down before you try to talk with your child. If you’re in a fight with your child, you won’t accomplish anything. Give yourself and your child some time to cool down, then start the conversation with understanding, compassion, and a calm voice.
Like anyone else, teenagers want respect. When engaging in a conversation with a teenager, no matter the topic, it’s important be respectful and listen to what they have to say. Don’t be dismissive and never, ever say “because I said so.” Teenagers want to know the reason for what you’re saying, and that’s not a reason. Talking to teenagers can be difficult at times. However, if you just talk to them the way you would like to be talked to, you’ll find that you can break down the barriers and have a calm, productive conversation.