By Tanni Haas, Ph.D. | Contributor
Every parent of teens knows how difficult it is to get them to talk. If they’re not in the mood, and you ask how their day was, the likely answer is a monosyllabic “Fine.” It doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things parents can do to get their teen to talk. Here’s what the experts suggest:
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Ask questions where a simple yes or no response won’t cut it. “By asking questions that can’t be answered with only a yes or no, says Sue Scheff, founder and president of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, a teen advocacy organization, “you’re opening the door for your teenager to say more than a couple of words in reply to you.” Instead of asking your teen how their day was, Ms. Scheff suggests saying “tell me about your day.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Terry Orbuch adds that if you want specific information from your teen, ask personal and fun questions that trigger deeper conversation. For example, you could ask questions like “what was an interesting thing that happened at school today?” and “why do you think your friend wanted to talk to you?”
Respect Their Privacy
Whatever your teen chooses to share with you, assure them that you’ll respect their privacy and not share the content of your conversation with others. “To earn our kids’ confidence, says Joanna Teigen, the author of Growing Home Together, a well-known parenting blog, “we’ve got to respect their privacy and keep our promises. Consistently handling their ideas, emotions, and stories with care goes a long way to keeping communication open.”
Listen to your teens, and listen well. “Listen, listen and continue to listen without interrupting,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg. “Once you interrupt your teens are likely to shut down. Just let them talk and vent, and they’ll be so appreciative.” A great way to show that you’re listening, says clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, author of Positive Parent and many other parenting books, is to “backchannel your teen’s words occasionally – not repeating everything they say, of course, but repeating some key phrases here and there, with a questioning intonation to make sure you’ve got it right.”
Look At The World From Their Perspective
Another strategy to get your teens to talk is to make an effort to look at the world from their perspective. “Teenagers think that their parents and caregivers don’t understand them,” says Ms. Scheff. To counteract that, “really try to imagine how you’d feel if you were in her shoes going through what she’s going through.” If your teens are sharing something that’s making them angry or sad, show that you understand what it’s like.
Offer Advice Sparingly
If you feel the need to offer advice (an irrepressible parental urge), be careful about blurting out what you think they should do. Instead, ask your teen what options they’re considering. “This’ll give you an idea of where her head is,” Ms. Scheff says. Clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Reese agrees that parents should only give advice sparingly. As Dr. Reese says, “more than likely, if your teen’s disclosing to you, they already know what they should do. Heavy-handed advice will only make them less likely to disclose in the future.”
Talk About Yourself
A final piece of advice is to talk about yourself, or as Joe White, the author of Sticking With Your Teen, says “model what you want your teen to do.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Darling agrees. If you want your teen to talk about their day, talk first about your day: “things you enjoyed, something funny that happened at lunch, a movie you loved, a great meme you thought was funny on Facebook. And while you’re still laughing, ask them about their favorite YouTube video.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.