After listing how NOT to communicate with your teen (see “The No-No Rules“), it seems only fair to give you a list of techniques for strengthening communication.
1. Respond with Empathy. If you’ve read any of my blogs in the past two years, you’re not surprised that this tops the list. It’s the most powerful tool I have in my classroom, and with my own sons. Actually, it’s a most powerful tool in conversation with anyone of any age. We all want to know that someone understands us, and a comment of “Oh, I know what you mean” or “Wow, you’ve been going through a lot” will go straight to someone’s heart.
2. Prove you’re really listening. Mute (or turn off) the television. Close your laptop. Swivel away from your desk. Ignore your phone. Make eye contact and show that you’re – uh – “all ears.”
3. Protect his dignity. If you know it makes him uncomfortable, or if he’s embarrassed by the topic, then don’t bring it up in front of someone else. This includes his siblings, who will either enjoy seeing him writhe or use it against him later, or both.
4. Be available. Stay up for an extra half hour if that’s when she wants to talk. Put off the household chores for a little longer. Get to that meeting a few minutes late. When your teen is in the mood to open up, do all you can to accommodate her.
5. Clarify what you’re hearing. Make sure you’re getting it right. Say, “Let me get this straight” or “So what you’re saying is. . .” Don’t be afraid to say, “I understood it up to this point, but could you explain the next part?”
6. Listen seriously. Even if you find what he’s saying hilarious, don’t let on (you can phone a friend later and have a good laugh). If he is taking himself seriously, you should too. It may not seem as important as worrying about how you’re going to pay the mortgage, but in his life, it’s everything.
7. Be authentic. Don’t say you think it’s a great idea if you don’t mean it. Take the neutral ground: “Hmm, I’ll have to think about that,” or ask a leading question: “Do you have any idea what a pet piranha would eat?”
8. Learn to text. Most teens won’t take a phone call from their parents, but they will answer a text within a few seconds.
9. Use empathy. This is not a misprint; empathy is important enough to mention twice. Instead of lecturing when she gets sunburned, just say, “Oh, ouch.” Instead of downplaying reaching a higher level in his video game, try “Bet that makes you happy.” Let your teens know you get it, and they’ll be more likely to share more often.
Don’t try to do all of these at once; pick one and practice it until it becomes a natural response, then work on another. By the time you get really good at communicating, your teen will be a young adult who looks forward to chatting with you!