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Keep Communication Open with Our Kids

November 30th, 2007

“How do I keep communication open with my teenagers?”

Parents often express that their teens are shutting them out of their lives. They talk more to their friends than to their parents. They might even consult with other adults such as their teachers or their friend’s parents. But they hesitate in coming to their own parents to talk.

My son said to me once, “If I tell you anything, you’d be upset. Or you’ll go tell all your friends about it.”

I have to admit, he was right. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to tell me anything either!

Let’s take a look at ourselves and who we talk to. What are some qualities of a friend that we enjoy talking with? On that list are probably empathy, acceptance, understanding, trust, common interest, plus a few other agreeable traits. Can you begin to see why teenagers do not talk to their parents?

Oftentimes we as parents react negatively to what our children tell us. My daughter told me something about having a hard time in her math class. I immediately jumped on her and told her to get into a study group, take better notes in class, and on and on. “Okay, mom,”she said, with eyes rolling up. An hour lecture is not conducive to them wanting to talk to us again.

They also don’t want to get in trouble and have privileges taken away if they told us the truth. As parents we are not like their best friend. We have little common interest with them and probably don’t understand what they are talking about. And they certainly don’t want the whole world know the details of their lives.

Communication cannot be forced. In many ways it has to be earned. One dad said to me, “I’ve told my son many times that he can come to me anytime to discuss anything.” I said to him, “Is your relationship with him such that you’ve earn his trust to tell you things in his life?” Merely telling your teen that he can talk to you does not automatically make you approachable.

What can we do to earn the right to have our teenager talk to us? Here are some suggestions:

1. As stated above, do not lecture your children every time they tell you something. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be a well of wisdom that gives all the answers.

2. Ask questions to show interest instead of making judgments. Honestly, it’s been too long since we were teenagers and we don’t understand what our teenagers are going through. Be genuinely interested in their world.

3. Express affection. Put your arm around your son or daughter and give him or her a hug. They may wiggle and squirm and outwardly show that they do not like it. But inwardly they probably likes it more than they show. I think the hang up is more with us that we don’t want to be rejected. But if we take the first step, it will break the ice. With my son, I began by putting my arm around him a few times. Then I began to give him light hugs, and sometimes I will give him a tighter hug. So take it in steps.

4. Give words of encouragement and support. Teens get a lot of negative messages at school. They are self-conscious of themselves. If you give him compliments and kind words, it tells him you are on his side.

5. Have some fun together. Even though I personally don’t like computer games, we bought the Nintendo Wii game system because it is something we can play together. Go out for a night of bowling or something that your teen enjoys. Laughter is very effective in opening up communication lines.

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