Sometimes it can seem impossible to know what’s going through the mind of your teenager. But you don’t to be a mind reader to engage them and talk about tough issues like bullying, violence, sexual activity, and other topics. The media, their friends, and their community all play a role in how teens understand certain challenges, but you can be a positive influence if you know the right tools to start a good conversation.
Praise honesty. Above all, it’s important to praise a teen when he or she chooses to be honest and share their thoughts and experiences. If they approach you with concerns about a friend, it’s important that you not be quick to criticize. Instead, have a discussion with your teen about what could be the fallout from the behavior and create a safe space for them to come to you in the future with their thoughts.
Practice a healthy reaction. Your actions speak louder than your words when a teen comes to you with an issue. If you panic, you’ll only make them feel more anxious. If you just lecture, they probably won’t feel heard and won’t come to you in the future. Listen with empathy, and hear what they have to say. Provide information and your thoughts as calmly as you can.
Find a comfort zone. No two teens are alike, and they will also respond in different ways to difficult conversations. Some might feel more comfortable talking in the car or taking a walk so they don’t have to make eye contact. Others might prefer the comfort of their room or may have a favorite eating spot where they will open up. It’s also important to remove distractions for you and the teen. Cell phones and the television will never facilitate a good conversation.
Never assume. Teens can have false information about topics like drug use, sex, etc., so it’s important to ask a teen what they do know about a subject before you educate them. Once you know what information is missing, you can look together on reputable Internet sites or in other resources. Rather than assuming your teen experiences adolescence like you did, ask them to tell you what’s different and how you can help them. Also, you should never assume that if a teenager asks you about a behavior that they are engaging in it. Be patient, and listen to what they have to say.
Take a big picture focus. Teens should know that making good choices and setting healthy goals in life aren’t just about pleasing their parents, teachers, or other adults. Talking about tough issues means walking a young person through the short-term and long-term consequences of the behavior. And instead of just trying to use scare tactics, you can ask your teen to think about how a choice might impact their life in the long run. They might know more about it than you think!
How do you get started? Every day you can look for opportunities to begin a conversation with your teen. Sometimes a story on the news is a safe way to explore their thoughts about a topic. It’s important to remember, however, that no topic will probably be a single conversation. As teens grow, they will have new questions and experience these issues differently. Let them speak up, be a good listener, and you might be surprised how easily the conversation can happen.