The time comes in every parent’s life when they need to talk to their teens about important topics such as drugs, alcohol and sex. But how do you know if your child is ready for the talk, and more importantly, perhaps, how do you know what to say? What if they don’t want to listen?
Learning to communicate with your teenager will help you get your message across in an effective way. Here are some suggestions from leading experts about how to open the lines of communication:
Start early. Experts recommend developing a rapport with your child beginning at an early age. It makes it easier to have a relationship with your child when they are older and naturally want more space and privacy. This is the time to set expectations for behaviour and to talk about issues in an age-appropriate way.
Find common interests. Do you both like sports, camping or trying new foods? It’s easier to begin a dialogue when you have something in common. It opens the door to better communication and this common ground can help when it’s time to discuss something important.
Be available. Even if you don’t have much in common, make the effort to spend extra time with your teen anyway. Set a date every week, have family dinners, or drive them to school when possible rather than having them take the bus. Research shows that teens say they don’t have enough time with their parents. A perceived lack of time may cause teens to feel their parents aren’t available to talk when they want to.
Don’t judge. If you end up being forced to discuss the topic because your child is already curious about sex or drugs, be open to listening to your teen. You might be surprised by some of what they have to say, and you might not agree, but try not to be judgemental. Let your kids know they can feel comfortable talking to you about anything. It will serve you well in the long run.
Resist lecturing. Conversations are a dialogue between two people. A lecture is when one person does all the talking. It’s also important not to attack. You don’t want to risk putting your teen on the defensive. Try to listen to one another. And keep it short. Once your teen understands what you’re trying to say, end the conversation before it becomes a lecture.
Be persistent. If your teen doesn’t want to talk to you at first, keep trying. Eventually they will come around. Your teen might even surprise you: sometimes the best conversations happen spontaneously. If you are open and available, you will be able to handle any important conversation well beyond the teen years.