Speaking with a teenager can sometimes feel like traveling to a foreign land. The language is different. The culture is different. Without a translator, you feel totally lost. Your efforts to communicate go nowhere, leaving you frustrated and defeated. This is especially true if you bring up the touchy subject of alcohol and drug use.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Encouraging Your Teen to Clam Up
Believe it or not, it is possible to have good communication with your teenager. You simply need to learn the techniques that will build trust and open doors. With the right methods, you can obtain an unrestricted passport to the ever-changing land of teenagers.
Instead of getting a stamp in this passport, however, parents often make the same mistakes again and again. If your teen avoids talking to you, it may mean you’ve fallen into patterns going nowhere fast.
With that in mind, let's look at a few conversational techniques you’ll want to avoid - the missteps listed below virtually guarantee a poor response from your teen.
- Be Generic: Respond with phrases like, “That’s great!” Don’t get any more specific or involved in your responses. This sends the message that you’re not that interested. The more generic you are, the less engaged you both will be.
- Never Shut Up: If you’re never quiet and simply listening, your teen won’t have the opportunity to share. You will send the message that you are not willing to listen, what they say is not important and talking to you always results in interruptions and lectures.
- Ask Closed-Ended Questions: Limiting the conversation to yes and no responses keeps it shallow and short. You don’t probe with more open-ended questions. These would let them know you are truly interested and would allow you to dig deeper to find out more information.
- React Explosively: An honest conversation about drug and alcohol abuse can result in shocking revelations about your teen’s behavior. To ensure they never open up again, try yelling, shaming and maybe even breaking something. If you remain calm, take time after the conversation to contemplate what they’ve said, and then decide how to react, you will establish trust and encourage open communication in the future. You can respond more rationally and your teen will feel safer coming to you with their problems.
- Never Praise Them: Constant criticism shuts down lines of communication faster than anything else. Finding ways to offer praise while speaking with your teen builds them up and encourages them and their efforts at communication. Of course, the praise better be genuine. Flattery and false pretenses aren’t much better than straight-up criticism.
Forget the Fear and Just Talk!
Approaching the subject of alcohol and drug abuse can feel awkward or even scary (especially if you suspect your teen of abuse), but it shouldn’t be dodged. By avoiding these mistakes and applying the opposite tactics, you can make this approach easier and more effective. You will enhance the communication between you and your teen. You can cultivate conversations that involve actual listening and sharing, that don’t abruptly begin and end with the classic response: “Fine!”
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