Getting Teens to Open Up: What’s the Secret?
Believe it or not, your teens really do care what you think. According to this study, boys (82%) and girls (76%) said they valued their parents’ opinions over their friends’ when it came to serious decisions.
If you struggle to communicate with your teen, you may think that it’s because they don’t listen to you or don’t seem to care what you think. They actually DO care; however, your teen also has a deep desire to be heard and if you want to connect with them on a deeper level, if you want them to really hear you, then you have got to hear them.
This presents yet another problem: teens that don’t want to open up. Maybe you would love to listen to your child, but they don’t want to talk, or at least they don’t want to share what they are really feeling and thinking.
Getting your teen to open up is not an exact science, but there are some things you can do to make that much more likely to happen.
Be an Engaged Listener
Show your teen that you are truly listening: eye contact, nodding, and praising their openness. This means you must sometimes put distractions aside–work, the phone, the TV–and give your child your full attention. This is one time when it’s important for you NOT to be multi-tasking.
Contain Your Reactions
As hard as it is to stay calm, it’s important for you to not act shocked or disapproving or judgmental when your teen opens up. Instead, praise their openness when they admit bad behaviour and share hurt feelings with you.
The parenting instinct is strong and we often feel like we have to “fix” our kids with our admonishments, but often our kids just need to know that we are truly listening FIRST before we share our opinions.
Timing is Everything for your Teen
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People explains that one of those habits is to “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” Through engaged listening, you are seeking to understand your teen.
After you have sought to understand their opinions and feelings, then you can ask to share your thoughts with them. This is a tactic that is especially important with teens. If you’ve listened to their thoughts first, they are much more likely to listen to yours.
Opening up does not just mean that your teens are talking and sharing their feelings, it means that they are opening up their ears and listening to yours. Opening up is a two-way street.
Dr Netta Weinstein, associate professor in clinical and social psychology at the University of Reading, explains that:
Listening to someone talk about their problems is an effective way of reassuring them and establishing a connection. However, until now there has been little thought given to the quality of that listening, and the difference that makes.
Maybe you try to listen to your kids, but find it hard not to get distracted. Or maybe you are too quick to insert your own thoughts and opinions before they are done. If you want a good parent-teen relationship, quietly listening to your child while showing them they are valued and appreciated for their honesty has a powerful effect on their willingness to open up.