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Get Your Teen to Talk to You

Being the mom of a teen isn’t easy (just ask Cyndi). You ask a question and you’ll likely get a nod, a one-word response—or no reply at all! The good news: That behavior is perfectly normal, says Carl Grody, LISW, of Grody Family Counseling in Ohio.

“A teen’s job developmentally is to start creating themselves separate from their parents, which means they naturally distance themselves from their parents in favor of peers and, sometimes, another adult such as an influential coach or favorite teacher for mentoring. But this doesn’t mean that the parents aren’t important anymore.”

In fact, with all of the pressures teens face today, it’s more important than ever to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Here are some expert tips to get the conversation started and keep it going.

Avoid face time. Kids are not fans of face-to-face talking at this age, says Kim Estes, a child safety expert. “When talking with them, create some anonymity, such as a virtual confessional box,” she says. “Text them a message asking something specific about their day, their friend, an activity, etc. Talk with them when they are in the back seat and only have to look at the back of your head. Or talk to them when they are getting ready to go to sleep. Create a journal that they can write in and leave under your pillow to read later.”

Ditch boring questions. Ask a simple question and you’re more likely to get a one-word answer. Instead, spice up your queries so your teen needs to add more thought and detail to his response, says Tina Kennedy, a mom of five teens and working mom coach. “Instead of asking ‘How was your day?’ try ‘What was the worst/best thing that happened today? ‘How would you rate your day out of 10?’ ‘What would have made your day better?’ and ‘If you could change one thing about today what would it be?’”

Share your own experiences. Telling your child the best and worst part of your day will show them that not only is conversation a two-way street, but that you’re a human being capable of having good days and bad ones—just like them. “My husband and I share some our own personal stories of childhood with our kids, not necessarily the stories that make us look good, but also of our own mistakes,” says Kathy Thompson, a mom from Watertown, CT.

Listen more than you speak. Remember to listen openly, not judge or add your opinions, says Kennedy. “Offer empathy and acknowledge their responses by saying things like, ‘That must be hard for you’ or ‘That sounds like hard work. Let me know if you ever want to brainstorm some solutions.’  As hard as it might be, don’t offer advice or opinion unless they ask for it.”

Don’t judge. Teens are grappling with a lot of serious stuff these days—peer pressure, drugs, sex, bullying, etc.—so try your best to refrain from freaking out, says Estes. “Keep calm when they tell you things, even if you don’t like what you are hearing. A parental freak-out is the quickest way to get them to clam up—forever.”