Q: [Teens] These days it seems I can’t say anything to my teenage daughter without it turning into a shouting match. Help!
A: Remember when you were a teenager and even the sound of your parents’ breathing seemed accusatory? Well, nothing’s changed—except now you’re the parent who is waiting to exhale.
We all think we’ll develop into an adult that teens can talk to. But in the years between prom night and parrenthood, we learn about the pitfalls of life that make us hypervigilant anddifficult to approach.
There is hope for us. First, we must dive deep into our memories and pull out all the old “tricks” that failed to work for our own parents.
This means letting go of the barrage of questions that we are tempted to unload. It means divesting ourselves of accusations, anger and distrust., and listening deeply. Above all, it means remembering that talking about drugs, alcohol, bullying and sex is way more difficult for them than it is for us. Before they open up, teens need to know they can trust in our love and understanding.
If you’re having trouble talking, try these tips:
Give them personal attention. Attention, away from siblings can help teens feel they are being heard allowing them to open up and discuss sensitive topics.
Let them choose the activity. Set up outings where your teens call the shots, deciding what you do and where you go. It’s a nice strategy to help the teen feel comfortable, understood and respected.
Gauge their mood. Sometimes teens really want to talk. Other times they don’t. If you open up a conversation and notice they bristle, take a step back. Timing is everything. Try again later, and make sure that they’re not already stressed about something, and they’re open to talking.
Let them talk. Rather than offering a lecture, show respect for their opinion. No teen wants to feel like they’re on the witness stand or a TED Talk. Keep what you have to say short and authentic. And don’t be afraid of “dead air.” Sometimes teens will fill in silence with illuminating and heartfelt conversation.
Sina Safahieh, M.D., is the medical director of the ASPIRE program. Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute is offering the acclaimed ASPIRE program as an evidence-based intensive outpatient program to treat teen anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.