When it comes to communicating with your teen, there are ways to make him or her talk. While I do not profess to being an expert, I have parented four teens – three at the same time! So, I speak from experience when I say: “Just say yes to fostering shared interests.”
1. Read a book your teen has read so that you can discuss it.
This provides a wonderful opportunity to explore a variety of issues under the umbrella of fictional anonymity. When my younger daughter was fourteen, we found Jodi Piccoult’s My Sister’s Keeper and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones conversation-stimulating on many levels. The first of these books was already in theaters and the second is scheduled to be released this month. So you might want to…
2. Take your teen to a movie.
Let him or her choose the film and the time. A teen with eclectic interests is sure to want to see something other than the stereotypical teen-interest offerings. If horror or action are the only genres he or she cares about right now, you might want to suggest that those movies be reserved for friends.
3. Listen to your teen’s music.
Turn over control of the car radio and CD player. Ask her to load your iPod. Musical open-mindedness has its rewards.I can relate to, if not necessarily appreciate hip-hop, pop, emo, alternative, jazz, and modern Broadway because the lyrics and themes lend themselves to comment which leads to discussion. A rousing chorus of anything from Wicked is awesome; for younger teens, 13 is very fun; Jesus Christ, Superstar has encouraged many a discussion concerning Judas and free-will issues. I’ll even confess a begrudging fondness for Panic! At the Disco (a band by the way), as long as I can get to the mute button quickly enough – I would rather think some words than hear them.
4. Drive your teen somewhere other than crazy.
Don’t hesitate to be the steady designated car-pool parent. You will be amazed at the information you are privy to if you keep your ears open (and your mouth closed). Living springboards for discussion are sitting in your backseat! Though she can drive herself now, I continue to transport my daughter to out-of-the-way places. It saves her gas money, she rationalizes; she is more likely to open up to me in the confines of my small car, I realize.
5. Eat out with your teen, just the two of you.
Let him or her pick the restaurant. In our family, pizza and Italian are especially popular. My daughter and I patronize her favorite local eatery at least every two weeks. The food is delicious, but the conversation is an even better treat.
6. Listen to your teen.
I guess I have saved the most crucial point for last, but listening is one of the most important parenting skills we have. If you are lucky enough to get them talking, let them! Don’t offer solutions or advice unless you actually hear the question, “What should I do?”
Recently, I was feeling smugly confident about my parental communication skills. After all, my daughter could talk to me about anything, right? And then she did – in the middle of the night immediately following a bad choice, a call for help from a “needy” friend, and a fender bender. Beware communication – sometimes things you might not want to hear are revealed! More importantly, though, things were revealed.
Ultimately, the responsibility of keeping the lines of communication open is, like so many other responsibilities, ours. It has been said that “the two greatest things we can give our children are roots and wings.” Give your teen the gift of shared gab that is firmly rooted in an honest attempt at on-going communication. No matter the physical distance between the two of you, you’ll only be a conversation away from each other.