Dad! Can we talk?

When was the last time you heard that question from your teenager? If you’re having a tough time remembering a situation where your teen actually chose to talk with you, well, you’re not alone. This is one of the most common frustrations parents share. “If she would just tell me what’s on her mind, I could try to help!” As many kids reach the adolescent years they seem to talk with their friends about everything (ALL THE TIME) and their conversations with parents get shorter and less frequent.

Oh, some teenagers talk. But many don’t. In fact it’s an aspect of normal development for teenagers to pull away from their parents, and stop relying on them for advice. Teens must practice independence, in preparation for the day when they will move away from home. Some of this practicing is agonizing for parents. We are interested in their lives. We are concerned about what they’re facing in this world, and we would like to support them. But they have to tell us what’s on their minds!

Or, do they? I want to challenge your thinking today. Is it really essential for you to know all the details of your teenager’s life? What parts do you need to know about? What parts can you allow to be private for your teen to keep to herself, or only share with her friends? This is hard, isn’t it? We think that “good” parents know everything. Who are those “good” parents that you know? The next time you see them ask how they keep on top of everything. My guess is they’ll tell you that there are things they wish they knew more about too. Or, they will say that it’s a constant battle to get their child to talk. And we know it’s not healthy to be in a constant battle with anyone, especially not our own child.

Here’s an idea for you. Think about trying this strategy for a week or so. See if it makes a difference.

When you get home from work, stop yourself from rambling off the typical parent list of boringly predictable questions: How was school? Do you have homework? When can you walk the dog? Who, teenager or adult, would be enthusiastic about sharing in quality conversation after being met with that battery? Instead, have a plan in your head to greet and then be available. For example, imagine your teenager’s reaction if you gave him a hug and said, “It’s great to see you.” And then, what if you sat down in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, obviously not busy? Might your teen grab a drink from the refrigerator, and perhaps sit nearby? It may not happen the first day, or even the first week, but over time this could become a nice routine.

The whole idea of being available is vital if we want to create an atmosphere for quality conversation. We need to be present, and not scurrying about. Put away the newspaper or your laptop. Just sit still, and be approachable. When kids see that we’re not too busy for them, we have set the stage for conversation to pop up spontaneously. And someday, when life is challenging and your teen is confused, you might hear him say, “Dad, can we talk?”