Last weekend, my teenage son Garret and I were driving to a food festival. My cell phone rang and I answered the call. It was my daughter at college with a big story to tell me. As I spoke to her, I didn’t notice how annoyed Garret was getting until he screamed out, “Enough talking on your phone mom!”
I hung up with my daughter and asked Garret what was going on. He told me he just wanted to talk to me. “I don’t understand why you have to be on the phone when we’re in the car together,” he said.
I felt like a bad mom. I had totally missed that signs that Garret want to talk to me. He actually had something specific he wanted to talk about, but I had no idea when we got in the car. Usually, Garret blasts his rap music when we are driving somewhere together. A lot of the time when I want him to open up to me, he gets annoyed by my prodding.
Because Garret is my third child, I should know the signs by now when a teenager wants to talk to his or her parent. But even as a seasoned veteran, I was off my game.
Seize the moment
If you want good communication with your teen, it’s important to seize the moment when you can to have a conversation rather than a lecture. Car rides are great places for that opportunity — and by talking on the phone, I had almost squandered it. The next car ride alone with your teenager, turn off the radio, don’t answer your phone and it’s likely your teenager will surprise you with candid conversation.
Do something together
Another sign your teenager wants to talk is when he or she asks you to do an activity together. When my son Jake was home from college, he asked me if I wanted to go on a bike ride. Jake rarely opens up. But during the bike ride, he had lots to say and actually talked to me about his girlfriend.
When I watched the television show “13 Reasons Why” one of the things I found scary was how the teenagers shrugged off their parents’ efforts at conversation. At times, my teenagers have shrugged me off the same way. It feels as if they want to talk when they want to talk and they don’t want to talk when you want to talk. The definitely don’t want you asking them questions.
A spontaneous conversation in the car or in their bedrooms late at night — any time when you’re not rushed — can make for some of the warmest, most rewarding moments with a teenager, according to Laurence Steinberg, an expert in adolescent behavior. I have learned that those moments happen when your teen can tell they have your attention and when you listen more than you speak.
On WebMD, Steinberg said. “I think for parents, one of the key parts of having good communication with kids is being around enough to capitalize on these moments that invariably don’t come up when you expect them to.”
Be aware of location
As toddlers, the spontaneous hugs and “guess what mom?” seemed to come so easily. Now, my teenagers have a life that I’m not fully a part of and connecting is much more complicated. I noticed with Garret, and with my older teenagers, that they don’t like to have those deeper, bonding conversations in their bedrooms. It’s almost like I have invaded their personal space. So, if Garret comes into my bedroom or my home office or into the kitchen while I’m cooking, it is a sign he has something to tell me or is open to conversation.
As parents, I feel we need to know what our kids are doing and thinking. Teenagers see it differently. They don’t want us to know everything going on in their lives. Still, the teen years are such a crucial time and just because they aren’t willing to open up to us as much as when they were younger, doesn’t mean we can’t keep working on ways to have those important talks. Next time I’m in the car alone with Garret, he gets priority over phone calls. While, it took a harsh reminder to get me to realize it, not only do those bonding conversations mean a lot to me, they mean a lot to our teenagers, even if our teens don’t always admit it.
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