How to Talk to Your Parents

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“How to Talk to Your Parents,” Tambuli, Feb. 1990, 42

How to Talk to Your Parents

There are things children can do to improve communication between themselves and parents.

My best friend Brad had just found out that his parents were getting a divorce, and we had spent the last several hours talking about the problems he was facing.

Then I looked at my watch. It was past 1:00 A.M. “Oh no,” I said, “I was supposed to be home long ago. My dad’s going to be angry with me.” I wished Brad luck in the coming days, said good-bye, and ran home.

The front porch light was still on—a bad sign. It meant Dad was waiting for me.

I opened the front door cautiously and stepped inside.

“Do you know what time it is?” he shouted. “It’s after one o’clock. Didn’t I tell you to be home earlier than this?”

“Yes, but …”

“There are no ‘buts’ about it. I’ve told you before about coming home late.” He shook with anger. “You won’t be going out visiting your friends again for a long time, young man.”

I felt like I was being convicted without a trial. I didn’t like it. “That’s not fair. At least give me a chance to explain.”

“There’s nothing to explain,” he said. “You’re late. That’s all there is to it. Now get to bed.”

“Dad,” I argued, “that’s not fair.”

Our conversation got worse from there as Dad and I argued and made accusations against each other. He never listened, I said. I had no respect, he said.

By the time I finally did go to bed, I was too upset to sleep. I was worried about Brad, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t talk to my dad about Brad’s problems. I wished things were different, that I could have come home and told him about Brad’s parents. But instead of talking, we only argued about my coming home late—for the hundredth time it seemed.

I really wanted to be able to communicate with my dad, and sometimes I sensed that he felt the same way, but for some reason, we were never able to get together.

It’s not always easy to talk to parents. Some young people, and you may be one of them, have a great relationship with their parents. These youth can talk, without fear or awkwardness, about anything and everything with their parents. But not everyone is so lucky. As a boy and then as a teenager, I always wanted to have meaningful talks with my mom and dad, but I wasn’t able to. We had a good relationship, but we never really talked. Looking back, I realize that I expected my parents to make all the efforts at establishing communication. That’s where I was wrong. There are things children can do to improve communication between themselves and their parents.

The first thing you can do is talk to them. It may not be easy at first, but it will be worth it. “My dad and I talked,” says a teenage school student I know, “but we never really sat down and had serious talks about what’s going on in my life, about problems I had, or things I wanted to accomplish. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever had a serious talk with my dad was when he was a bishop and had to interview me on my birthday.

“That interview really helped me see that I could improve our communication if I made the effort to help him. Things didn’t change from one day to the next, but since then, he and I both have tried harder to find the time to sit down together once in a while and talk.”

One girl I know interviews her parents about once a week. “I don’t really ‘interview’ them,” she says, “not in an obvious, formal way. But I do catch them when they’re not busy and ask them questions about their childhood, their school days, those kind of things. Once they start answering, I just sit back and listen. It’s amazing what I’ve learned about my mom and dad that way.”

The more you talk to your parents in everyday situations, the easier it will be to talk to them in times of crisis and emotion. Meaningful communication doesn’t just happen—it takes practice, practice that you can often initiate.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the time to talk. If that’s the case, try some creative approaches. One young missionary told me, “I always wanted to talk to my mom. Oh, we talked about lots of things but never about anything serious or personal. We had a good relationship—we got along well—but we never really talked.

“There was so much that I wanted to tell her, so many questions I wanted to ask her before I went on my mission, but I just couldn’t do it.

“So I wrote her a letter, a long letter, and left it on her dresser. That really opened things up for us, and we had a couple of great talks before I left.”

If time is a problem for you and your parents, use your imagination to find the time to be with them. For example, you might get up early or stay up late so you can talk without any interruptions. You can even make an appointment with them, write down a specific time and place, to talk about things. If you put your mind to it, you can come up with other ways to help you and your parents find the time to talk.

Of course, sometimes you’ll want your mom and dad to listen, not talk. As you’ve probably noticed, many adults suffer from the problem of giving instant advice, even when it’s not really wanted. I know I do. My daughter Christy will often start to tell me about a problem she’s having at school or with friends, and immediately I stop listening and start telling her what she should do. I know that Christy wants to express herself more than she wants my advice, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

A student of mine has a good approach to use on parents (or any other adult, for that matter) who tend to give advice when they should be listening. “My parents love to give me advice,” he says, “and lots of times, it doesn’t bother me. But sometimes I really want them to listen to what I have to say, so I’ll tell them, ‘Mom and Dad, I want to tell you something, and I want you to listen—without talking—until I’m finished. I really want to tell you this, but if you’re not going to listen, I’m not going to tell you. If you’ll listen to me, then I’ll listen to what you have to say.’ That usually works.”

It might not always be that easy to get your parents to listen to you. Sometimes emotion can interfere with the communication. If either one of you is upset, the lines of communication break down rapidly. “Whenever I ask my dad about getting my driver’s license,” one high school student once told me, “he just gets angry.”

“And what do you do when he gets angry?” I asked her.

“I get angry right back. Then we have a big argument all over again.”

Sensitive subjects can be discussed without everyone involved getting in “a big argument.” If you’ve got to talk to your parents about something, but you’re scared to death to do it, you can ease the situation by expressing your feelings. Say, “I’m really afraid to tell you this, but …” Or if your parents are upset, try recognizing their feelings by saying something like, “You’re really angry about …” The better you and your parents understand the emotions you bring to a conversation, the easier it will be to communicate.

I wish now that I had handled that incident with my dad regarding my being out late a little differently. He was so angry at the time that it would have been useless for me to argue with him that night. But I could have approached him later, when we were both feeling less emotional, and tried to explain my feelings to him.

Even though I knew it was important, it was always hard for me to talk to my mom and dad. This lack of communication was frustrating, but what kept me from getting too discouraged or angry was the knowledge that they loved me. And I loved them. Whatever communication weaknesses we shared, at least we had our hearts in the right place.

That kind of love between children and parents is the basis for effective communication. No matter what your mom and dad say—or don’t say—they still love you. Keep that in mind as you start to take steps to improve your communication with your parents.

Photography by Welden Andersen