Get Your Teen to Love Talking to You

Communicating with our teens doesn’t have to be painful

By Cheryl Ng | 15 August, 2017

They would not listen

They did not know how…

Do we catch ourselves dredging out these lyrics from a time long ago when we feel very misunderstood, or in exasperation trying to communicate with our teenagers?

Quite a few parents I’ve met are rather perplexed why a previously gregarious and chatty eight-year-old might suddenly reply their “Had a good day?” with “mm…orh…ah…”, or why their compliant pre-teen might unexpectedly assume a passive-aggressive streak by ignoring instructions.

Communicating at every opportunity

Our family has a ‘talkative’ culture where we engage one another in conversation at every opportunity to share our lives and thoughts.

We have worked to make conversation a priority at family meals, even though such times have dwindled from a daily affair to a weekly event as they grow up. Nevertheless, touching base with the family at the end of a long day at school or work helps each of us release the pressures of the day to debrief or decompress.

On top of that, leisurely Saturday dinners or long lazy Sunday brunches provide the perfect setting for casual chats about our daily encounters. Discussing how we handled them opens the door to reinforce values and pre-empt tricky situations. This is also a platform for encouraging the young ones’ endeavours and affirming their good decisions.

When we get together with our friends, we appreciate it when the children are engaged in the conversation. They learn life’s lessons and also become comfortable in interacting with people who are not their peers in varied social settings. Such situations honour the children as we believe that they can hold their own with other adults.

As a mum on a flexible work arrangement, I enjoy taking my kids out on scheduled one-on-one dates after school or when other activities end. We really look forward to these times as it is indulgent and fun to connect over shared favourites of tea and cakes or in the mutual delight of browsing toy/ clothing stores and bookshops. In such relaxed atmospheres, the kids speak their minds and from their hearts. And listen with intent too. I find that they are more receptive when they feel affirmed and loved.

My husband’s best vehicle for communication is driving the children to school. It’s the perfect space to listen to the news on the radio together and exchange views on what’s happening in the world around them. It’s also the perfect time to check out their day’s programmes, and pray with them for a great day!

Communicating from young

Once, I asked my children what they think about teenagers’ communication with their parents, in general. Several of them pointed to a great relationship with their parents from young as a crucial starting point. Strong and clear communication lines need to be built early.

“You can’t expect teenagers to suddenly desire telling their parents about their friends or activities now that they’ve become more independent, when their parents didn’t have time to hear the stories of their teacher’s cats or their playground escapades before.”

“Or when they were just given instructions all the while they were growing up.”

“Or if the parents always brush aside their views.”

“Or ignore their feelings.”

“Communication lines need to be built early.”

Part of that great relationship is trust. Children need to know that they are taken seriously and that parents make real effort to address their questions and doubts. They cannot bear to be mocked at for their requests for answers, advice or help. In her early teens, my daughter asked me the big question on what I thought about dating, I did not tell her to wait till she was older nor did I raise my eyebrows at her. I immediately — and as casually as I could — sat her down on the sofa with me. I did have to ask a few questions first to find out what angle she was coming from, before having a heart-to-heart discussion on what each of us thought about dating and how it works for different stages.

Communication is a two-way street. Parents have to listen as much as they want their teenagers to listen. Listening to what their hearts are crying out for and not just to the words.

Listening without judging. Don’t think the worst, or the least, of your child.

Listening without giving unsolicited advice. Usually, the teenager is interested to hear dad and mum’s opinion.

“Communication is a two-way street.”

A good sense of humour helps to lighten the mood as well.

Perhaps they’ll listen now.

And talk too.

© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Cheryl is the Principal Trainer at Focus on the Family Singapore, and believes that children are the future and family the nurturing ground. She and her husband have four children.

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