Look for ways to reach your teen: Everyone has a pathway to communicating; the challenge is finding it when it comes to your teen. Discovering this will largely occur through trial by fire. It may be a topic, a subject, a team, a memory, a game, a space, an activity, or an event. The goal as the parent is to persevere long enough to find that connection. For me, as a teen, it was tennis. Tennis was the safe, neutral space where my dad and I could communicate and interact regardless of the current state of our relationship. It was known (without being stated) that when we talked or played tennis, it was civil, polite, and friendly, even if we were none of those things in any other context. You are the parent; you have a premium vantage point and the proximity, and thus, are best positioned to uncover and dig for potential topics, outings, events, activities, sports, games, or memories that will disarm and engage your teen. But discovery is a process.
Go slow to go fast: Haste makes waste. It’s vital that you’re not peppering your teenager with a myriad of topics. Too much, too soon, or too often will drive them away. Instead, pick one avenue, commit to it, and see how it goes. Use that as a barometer; for example, if the attempt was talking about sports, and it flopped, opt for an experience for your second attempt: instead of talking about sports, go watch one.
Use the power of silence to elicit words from your teenager: One extremely obvious but often overlooked fact about kids is that they hate silence. They want to fill it with noise. So, here's a tip for your next car ride: try no music, no parent questions, and no mobile device … the product will be somewhere from a few words to a full-blown conversation; I don't care if they're 5 or 15 years old. When the car is filled with silence, the weight of it sits on their chest and forces out words. Any words. They. Can’t. Help. It.
Don’t smother your teenager in communication: Often teenage words generated by the desperation of silence are defensive and mean, or funny and dismissive, but every so often they are a glance straight into their soul. The tradeoff is worth its weight in Bitcoin. I would love to possess the secret to skipping the meanness and dismissive snipes, but I can’t. The first two eventually lead to the last: open communication. To achieve relevant and honest channels of communication with your child, you must practice the process of talking. And no one wants to talk to Debbie-Downer (ya know, with those grades you’re not going to get anywhere in life …) and no one wants to hear you brag about your glory days (ya know, when I was in school I played three sports and had a 9.0), so stop it already.
Shelve the shame: There is a lot of pressure to appear to be a perfect or capable parent. But communication breakdowns are painful, and many find embarrassment in them. There should be no shame in reaching out to your people, your parent friends for help and advice. Plenty of parents do in fact communicate well and often with their teens; pick their brains, ask how they do it, seek suggestions like you do for other things, like a good Thai restaurant or landscaper. I find the best answer is typically in the room—only asking for advice will get you options and suggestions to try.
Patience is a weapon, too: Establishing or reestablishing open lines of communication with teenagers takes time; it’s not easy and it’s tempting to give up. Don’t. When they were little, and they threw a fit, you let them kick and scream and cry on the kitchen floor. In time, their fit passed. Now, they’re big kids, and instead of the kitchen floor, the fits are silent, passive-aggressive, mean or hostile forms of communication. Remember, they're still kids and patience is your best weapon.
Contain your excitement upon a breakthrough: You did it! Your teen finally engaged with you. You found a strategy that disarmed and engaged them. Perfect. Now, don’t blow it by immediately getting into the weeds and talking the heavy talk. Invest in simple conversations, build equity, and cash it in for the real talk in critical moments. The objective is an increased frequency of communication outside of intense or critical or important conversations. So, go you! You’re communicating; now build on that success and ride the wave of momentum to a healthier relationship with your child.
Don’t be alarmed: It is very typical for teenagers to have poor communication skills with their parents. While this is frustrating, it is critical to find a workaround, and not allow that roadblock to cause unnecessary stress or emotion.