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Nine Ways to Communicate with Your Teenager

Tips for talking through these transitional years

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"My teenager won't talk to me! Every response is 'I dunno,' 'whatever,' or some sort of unintelligible grunt. Help!"

If this is the way you feel, don't despair—help is on the way.

As parents, we desire deeper relationships with our teenagers, but we often don't know how to go about fostering those relationships. Learning good communication skills and recognizing moments when a teenager is open to communicating can lead to meaningful discussions that go beyond the typical one- or two-word responses.

Here are a few ways to foster improved communication with your adolescent son or daughter:

1. Good communication begins with listening—true listening. Don't just listen to your teenager's words; listen to the disguised messages and underlying worries or emotions. Don't assume that you know what's up with your teenager and then offer advice based on your presumptions. A dozen things could cause a teenager's sudden moodiness, so take your time.

2. Focus on your teenager. As I was busy getting supper ready one evening, my daughter approached me with a concern. At least I think it was a concern; I wasn't really listening. And my daughter called me on it. While I couldn't drop everything I was doing lest the meal burn, I now know that I can make a better effort to focus when I am truly busy and to stop completely when it's something that can wait.

Yes, you're busy. And moms especially tend to operate in constant multitask mode, but when you're communicating with your teenager, make every effort to give him or her your full attention. Stopping what you're doing communicates that you sincerely care and want to really hear what is being said.

Of course, there are exceptions. For example, difficult topics are sometimes easier for teenagers to talk about if they don't feel your eyes upon them. In this case, a car ride may help them open up because you won't have a face-to-face encounter. If you sense your teenager is struggling to open up, ask if he or she would like to take a ride with you.

3. Ask thoughtful questions. Teenagers don't always want us to give them advice; sometimes they just want to vent as a way to process what they're going through. Thoughtful questions will help them process, but remember that not every question has to be answered immediately, or at all.

A question like "I wonder what would happen if…" will help teenagers ponder and enable them to think on their own. These questions themselves can lead to the right answers, without preaching.

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Nine Ways to Communicate with Your Teenager