‘Car Talk’: How To Get Teens To Open Up
Parents often worry when their teens don’t talk about what is going on in their lives. If a teen is not opening up to his or her parents, avoiding eye contact and uttering one word responses to questions, it’s a sign that it is time for the parent to try a different approach.
Parents can build a closer connection with their kids, opening up communication so teens will feel free to share what is on their minds and hearts. At SuperCamp, we call this strategy “building a home court advantage.” Just like the home court advantage in sports, where the home team enjoys an edge as it feeds off the support of its fans, this dynamic helps teens see their parents as allies.
When parents build a home court advantage, they help teens reduce stress, cope with challenges, and feel comfortable sharing personal issues.
Building a home court advantage is not a quick fix. The trust and the connection must grow over time. Here are four key steps in how to do it.
1. Listen More/Talk Less
If there is a lack of communication in your home, the situation won’t improve by trying to force it. In general, be ready with your ears when your child does decide to open up, even if it’s to share simple news.
One great place to engage your child is when you’re driving in the car together. When you are sitting beside each other in the front seat of the car, you’re facing forward. With both of you looking straight ahead, you’ve created a non-confrontational setting, in which a conversation can start and flow more easily.
Also, whether it’s in the car or somewhere else, when your child is sharing some news, it helps to encourage more dialogue by saying, “Tell me more.” This simple request gives your child an indication that you’re interested in what they’re saying. At the same time, it’s completely non-judgmental; you’re not offering an opinion on what was just said.
2. Ask…Don’t Tell
Do you like to talk with people who don’t understand you? Of course you don’t. Kids are the same way. Often when parents attempt to provide heartfelt advice, even with the best of intentions, kids will perceive it as a “lecture” and automatically shut down the communication process.
Asking a question, on the other hand, will generate a response and lead to a dialogue. A question, particularly one that requires more than a yes or no answer, engages the brain. It’s a classic technique in sales that is used to learn more about the prospective buyer and to build rapport. And it’s something that works well in families, as well.
Asking more and telling less also gives parents a better opportunity to learn what pressures their kids may be under. Whether it’s bullying, relationships, grades, or something else, the information more likely will come to light by asking simple, non probing questions.
3. Share Your Values; Discover Your Child’s
It’s easy for parents to think that their kids know what values the family stands for. After all, they’re part of the family. But it’s best not to assume that they’re either focused or clear on your family’s values.
So have a casual conversation, perhaps at the dinner table, where you discuss what values your family stands for. Ask your kids what their values are. If they need time to think about it, suggest revisiting the topic at dinner in a day or two.
Once you’ve had this conversation, encourage your kids to seek out others in school with like values. Being part of a group of like-minded kids who share common values and interests builds positive peer influences and helps teens feel supported at school and at home.
4. Build Authentic Bridges to Your Child
The prime directive in our summer enrichment programs is “Theirs to Ours, Ours to Theirs.” What this means is in order for our staff to teach the students who attend SuperCamp, first they must enter the kids’ world. In other words, our staff must connect with the kids, which gives them permission to teach.
This strategy applies to building a home court advantage, as well. Par