Did you know that teens who talk to their parents about their daily activities and discuss their inner thoughts and feelings are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and have lower levels of anxiety and depression? Yup! That’s a big benefit to trying to get your teen to talk to you! Unfortunately, you know that as soon as adolescence rolls around, it’s such a struggle to get your kid to open up. It’s natural for them to start pulling away (it’s actually an essential developmental milestone!).
So what’s a parent to do? You want to have your kid become more independent, but you also want them to get the mental health benefits of still being close to you. Thankfully, research gives us some clues on how to increase the chances that your teen will open up to you.
1. Maintain a Sense of Open Communication
This might feel hard because your teen is pushing you away and becoming more independent, but it’s critical that you find a way to maintain open communication. Even though your teen is relying more and more on their friends, you’re still the most important person in your child’s life (despite the eye rolls, sarcasm, and push back). If your teen feels that you’re disengaged, it can lead to a breakdown of trust and communication.
2. Validate, Validate, Validate
For older adolescents, like 17 and 18 year olds, a research study showed that older teens were more likely to open up to their moms if they experienced their mom as validating.
What does that mean? Don’t go into problem-solving mode. Avoid inserting your opinions into the mix uninvited. Refrain from making judgments. Instead, empathize with whatever situation your kid brings up. Let them know whatever their feeling is a valid way to feel, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the situation they’re in. Give them comfort and emotional support.
3. Maintain a Calm and Accessible Presence
Research shows that, younger teens (like 13 and 14 year olds) stay distant from their parents if they perceive their parents to be preoccupied, dismissive, or prone to strong negative emotional reactions.
Keep in mind, being accessible doesn’t mean you need to be available every moment of every day. However, do try to make time if your child approaches you to talk. Be mindful of checking-in with them when you definitely do have time; they won’t necessarily start talking with you right then and there, but they will make a mental note that, “okay, mom or dad does have time for me.”
4. Tell Your Teen About Your Own Life
We can be total mysteries to our own kids. When they’re younger, they see us as the all-knowing, bigger than life person. However, as our kids near adulthood, they begin to see us as real people. And they want to know that we’re human beings who are real and flawed, not robots that have never made a mistake, gotten anxious, or experienced heartache. And research backs this up. Our teens want to know us as real people… in measured doses.
They key to talking to your teen about your own life is to keep in check why you’re telling them something. If it’s to one up them (e.g., “Well, when I was a teen, I had it way worse. I had to….”), don’t do it. If it’s to normalize their experience (e.g., “The first time I failed a test, I was absolutely devastated, too.”), then share away! Try not to get into the nitty gritty details of it, unless your kid asks follow-up questions. Because, the purpose is not to recount an epic story; the purpose is to make your kid feel less alone in their experience.
5. Communicate Unconditional Love and Support
The parents who seem to have the most influence over their teen’s academics and behavior are the ones who express warm, unconditional love and support. Unconditional doesn’t mean you agree with all of their choices or accept them engaging in risky behavior. It does mean that you love and accept them just the way they are, and you’re not going anywhere, even if times get tough.
Want to strengthen your relationship with your teen or emerging adult child? Visit our contact page to send our adolescent specialist, Dr. Jenifer Goldman, a message or schedule a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.