When I speak at parenting conferences, I usually ask parents how many moms and dads are enjoying good communication with their teenagers. About 5 percent raise their hands. So if you are having trouble communicating with your teen, apparently you are in the vast majority.
So, if you are looking for ways to improve communication with your teen, here are five of my top tips…
1. Make mealtime family time. My good friend David Lynn is a counselor in Tuscon, Arizona, and coined the phrase, “Make mealtime family time.” He has helped to bring to light overwhelming research showing that teenagers who dine regularly at home with their families are more satisfied with life. They are better students, are less likely to be sexually promiscuous, and tend to be much less involved with drug and alcohol abuse. Hectic schedules make dining together difficult, but the rewards make this a family tradition to cherish. A family I know, the Terrys, builds on this tradition every Monday night with an “ice cream run.” I think the emphasis is more on the ice cream than the “run” part. It apparently works, though. You might think the novelty would wear off, but they tell me the family has gone out for ice cream for years and the teenagers never seem to have other things going on Monday nights.
2. Make bedtime communication time. I found that one of the best times to have good communication with my teens was their bedtime. This was a carryover from their younger years when we tucked them into bed and said a prayer. When the teens were in bed but not asleep, I found them more in tune with talking about their day or their problems or whatever was on their mind. The relaxed atmosphere seems to work well for good communication. This is the type of communication that is foundational for the other times when you have to have a more difficult conversation. Try not to have those tougher conversations always at the same time or in the same place.
3. Have parent-child dates or hangout times. By the time kids are teenagers, they are very focused on their friends and peers. They literally are becoming individuals away from Mom and Dad, but most are willing to do something fun with their parents; they still like to eat or shop. My habit was to have a monthly date with each of my children. They got to pick the experience, within financial reason. For them it mainly had to do with food. Another friend of mine took each of his two sons to breakfast every week. They didn’t seem to mind getting up a bit earlier than usual before school. These days, his sons are married but live in the same area, and the weekly breakfast is still happening.
4. Walk around the block. My good friend John Townsend, author and speaker extraordinaire, regularly took his sons on a walk around the block. At first they would complain, he said, but about the second time around the block “the floodgates of communication would open.” Do whatever it takes to keep the communication lines open with your kids.
5. Listen more, talk less. A great deal of communication is listening. Listening is the language of love. We parents can have a difficult time really listening to our children. It often seems easier to lecture and scold, but the results aren’t the same as with listening. I’ve learned that sometimes my kids just want to talk and they really don’t want me to share my opinion. I had to learn to quit answering all their questions…before they asked them! For older teens, it might help if you ask their permission to share your opinion, saying something like, “Would you mind if I shared with you my perspective?” This gives them a feeling that you really care for them. Even when it comes to conflict, a principle John Rosemond shared has the best results: “The fewer words a parent uses, the more authoritative the parent sounds. The fewer words a parent uses, the clearer the instruction.”
Excerpted from Teenology by Jim Burns (Bethany House).