Sometimes parents talk too much.
Before you get too insulted, please understand, I also talk too much.
We had a recent incident with my teenage son, something that required a serious “talk.” My husband and I sat down with him, in the living room on a Sunday afternoon. I thought it was a good talk. I was proud of my husband (his dad) who was so genuine and honest about his concerns. I was really feeling so good about “The Talk.”
Afterwards, when my son had escaped to a far corner of the house, I said to my husband, “that was a good conversation we had with Jake.” His reply: “Well it wasn’t really a conversation, he didn’t say much.”
My bubble burst. It was true. I tried to remember how many words Jake actually said. “OK,” “Yup,“I will.” It was not a terrible talk. I mean, he stayed in the room with us, and didn’t have a horrible attitude- no eye rolling that I recall. The good part was that we said some things that needed to be said regarding safety and expectations. The bad part was that we did not engage him, and even worse, I did not even really notice or care.
Let’s be realistic, sometimes things will inevitably one sided: there is something a parent feels just needs to be said, a limit needs to be set, a concern stated. BUT if most of your “talks” are like this one, it is a problem. Your teen should feel like they can be heard, and it’s your job to create the space for those two or three sided conversations.
Dr. Laura Kastner, author of Wise Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials for Raising Successful Tweens + Teens, has this acronym: W.A.I.T, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” When you have a reluctant teen, and you are heading in to a “talk,” WAIT, and think: What’s my goal in talking about this? Have we talked it to death already? Is there a better strategy to address it?
If you have a solid “Why”, then full steam ahead, and say what you need to say. Before you do, take a look at these tips for more engagement and less resistance from your teen:
Be brief: I wish you many long meaningful deep conversations with your teen, and grab then when you can, but it cannot be forced. Less is more when talking to a reluctant teen. From the highly recommended 20 Minute Parent Guide, “Extraneous words can drown out your core message (as in the “waa waa waa” of Charlie Brown’s teacher).”
Be specific: Instead of a rant, “You don’t take responsibility for your actions, you lie to me all of the time, what are you thinking?” Try: “Yesterday you said you would pick up your brother from soccer and you did not,” or “Last night you told me that you were at Emily’s house but her mom said you were not.”
Write it down. When you feel overwhelmed by all that you want to say, it can help to organize your thoughts on paper. It is not meant to be a script (your teen will likely take you off script) but can bring some clarity when your thoughts and emotions are chaotic.
Own the issue: When you have something that you feel absolutely needs to be talked about, and your teen is reluctant/defiant/disengaged go ahead and put that out on the table:
I can tell you are not interested in talking about this right now, but I (we) feel this is important enough that we need to share our concerns (expectations, etc.) even though we know you are upset/angry/bored.
Listen, listen, listen (non-judgmentally): Leave space for them to talk, and if they do, listen. Yes, even if what they are saying is not what you wish they would say.
Ask “curiosity questions”: Why do you think we are worried about _________? How do you see the situation? What grade would you like to get in English?
Validate their feelings: Use statements like “You’re angry that we won’t let you go to the party,” or “You’re upset with your English teacher.” It would be nice if they also validated your feelings, but you may have to get that elsewhere!
Share power with them by inviting them into the problem solving:
We agreed on a 10:00 curfew, and you came in after 11:00 two nights in a row. We need to know we can trust in you to follow the agreed up on rules. How do you think we can solve this?
Search Institute, an organization that has done a ton of research on how young people develop into well-adjusted adults, puts it this way: “It is the sharing of power with children, as appropriate for their developmental ages and stages, that most predicts how well they are seen to be doing, academically and in numerous other ways.”
Laura Cleary is a social worker, parent coach, blogger, and mom to three young adult children and two dogs. To find out more about her, visit lauraclearyparentcoach.com