Getting Teens to Talk: Eight Tips for Improved Communication

    By Vicki Lynn Jackman, Young Women General Board

    The Family: A Proclamation to the World states that parents “have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness” and “to provide for their physical and spiritual needs.” And yet, if we don't have open and honest communication with our children, it can be hard to know what their exact needs are. For some teens, this is easy. They'll share thoughts, feelings, and concerns with parents without reservation—sometimes without even being asked or prompted. Other teens, however, are more private or reserved. Opening up doesn't come easily. How can we improve communication with our children, regardless of their comfort level? Here are eight suggestions that may help.

    1. Love as the Savior loves.

    The Savior gave His disciples a commandment to “love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This includes loving our teens. Start by looking for the good in them. Tell them often what you appreciate about them. Be authentic. These sincere statements of appreciation and praise will build confidence, strengthen relationships, and foster more open conversations. Make your motto: “Love more.”

    2. Give them your time and support.

    Take an interest in what your teenagers are doing—their hobbies, goals, schooling, activities. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time."1 Both the quality and quantity of time you spend are important in building good relationships. Schedule time with them. Be fully engaged. Attend their concerts, ball games, plays, and recitals. Ask about their classes and school assignments. Let your children hear you say nice things about them to others. As you consistently show love, understanding, and support, they will learn that you are their best ally, and their trust will increase. They will be more willing to share their thoughts, concerns, fears, and desires with you. If you need more motivation to find time for family, here are 10 inspirational quotes about family time.2

    3. Listen intently and put away distractions.

    Listen with your eyes as well as with your heart and ears. Put your cell phone away, turn off the TV, and really focus on your child. Give them your undivided attention. Ask questions and listen to their answers. Also, be available whenever your children want to talk. This time usually isn't scheduled so be flexible and willing to put other matters aside. These impromptu discussions almost certainly won't come when you are rested with nothing to do. Some teenagers tend to open up after ten o'clock at night.

    4. Avoid taking over the conversation.

    James taught, “Be swift to hear, [and] slow to speak” (James 1:19). Avoid the impulse to start lecturing and giving advice. This may silence your child. Instead, validate your child's feelings. Simple responses such as “Really?” “Tell me more,” or “How did you feel about that?” or “So what you're saying is . . .” are great ways to keep a teen talking. Try to remember what it was like to be 15. It may help to keep in mind these three things teens want parents to know.3

    5. Give hugs.

    Children of all ages need physical touch. Hugging your child has great developmental benefits, including lowering stress and minimizing interpersonal conflicts.4 Frequent hugs also demonstrate your love and affection for your child, which in turn can strengthen the parent-child relationship. Take time to hug. If you're not used to it, start now. A heartfelt hug can help a teenager feel secure. When a child feels secure and safe, they are more willing to communicate.

    6. Eat together.

    Sometimes it takes a miracle to get the entire family together for a meal, but mealtimes can be great opportunities to talk. One family insisted on having their children together at the dinner table. They put away their mobile devices, and the children stayed at the table to talk until everyone was finished eating. The family really learned to carry on a conversation. They also learned to appreciate each member of their family. If family dinners are hard to schedule, then look for other ways to create that quality time .

    7. Work and play together.

    Look for activities that you and your teenagers can do together. Hiking, biking, fishing, window shopping, cooking, singing, arts and crafts, or other activities can stimulate communication. Working together on projects such as home repairs, yard work, and housework can be fun also. Start when children are young and allow them to help in significant ways. As you work together, seize the opportunity to engage children in conversation. This time together can be a bonding experience and teach children invaluable life skills. Pro tip: a treat at the end of a work assignment usually adds to its appeal.

    8. Get to know their friends and teachers.

    If possible, make your home a gathering place for your teenage children and their friends. This will allow you to meet your children's friends, to learn their names, and to show a sincere interest in them. When they arrive, make friends feel welcome. When appropriate, include them in family activities. Here's a tip: kids tend to gather wherever there's food. Also, get to know your children's teachers in school and at church. Be interested in all the people in your children's life who are important to them.

    Strive to Be

    1. Pray about how you can improve communication with your teenager.
    2. Discuss with your teen how you can improve your communication skills together.
    3. Text your teens. Learning how to speak their language will be helpful.
    4. Show your sense of humor. The family that laughs together communicates together.

    It might take some time to refine your relationship with your teenager, so be patient with the results of your efforts. Don't give up on them or yourself.

    Notes

    1. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Things That Matter Most," Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 22.
    2. Aspen Stander, "Three Things Teens Want Parents to Know," Ensign, Feb. 2019, 60-63.
    3. Vivian Manning-Schaffel, “The Health Benefits of Hugging,” nbcnews.com.

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