Getting Teens Talking
According to a survey of 6,500 teens by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, 73 percent said the number one reason they turn to drugs and alcohol is to relieve stress at school. As the new school year begins, how can you help your teen adjust -- and to open up about what's going on?
"You can push too much and that'll shut the child down. So it's a fine balance: Be available, be a good listener, and also know when you do need to push in case they're into some things that they shouldn't be," says Gloria Meaux, Ph.D., a psychologist.Between a parent and a teenager, this might be the typical conversation: "How was school today?" "Fine." "Anything special happen?" "No." "What are you doing tomorrow?" "Nothing." Mumbles, a shrug, single word answers … how can you get your children to talk openly and honestly? How much do teenagers tell their parents? I hardly share anything with my parents," says 16-year-old Derek. "I share very little with my parents,"says 18-year-old Tyler.
Jessie gives an example of a question she hates: "How was your day?""When you've had a horrible day, you just feel like people at school are mad at you," she says. "Your classes went horribly, you failed a test. It can almost be an insult without them knowing it, because it just seems insensitive."
Experts say parents are better served asking about something specific: school projects coming up, weekend plans with a friend, or a test that the child may be worried about."The specific questions, you'll get more bang for your buck if you want them to communicate back to you than some general question that you could ask a stranger on the street," says Dr. Meaux. "Sometimes she'll be like 'so how is that situation going with this person' and I'll just burst out crying," says Jessie.
Experts say it starts by being easy to talk to. "You're sort of the approachable parent, that you listen more than you talk, and listening is the hard thing," says Dr. Meaux. And once they truly believe you're listening, experts say they'll open up more.
"The more talking they'll do because they'll be open," says Licensed Clinical Social Worker Freddie Wilson. "[They'll be more open if they feel] you're open to hearing what I'm saying rather than talking and giving them solutions and solving their problems for them. They want someone to hear them."
And knowing when your child really needs your ear comes from getting to know your child. "I’ll look at her and I’ll say 'You look like you’re down, did something happen?' Yes. Was it so and so? Yea," explains Jessie’s mom. "It helps to know that she cares and that she’s actually wanting to know about things," says Jessie.
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Jessie gives an example of a question she hates: "How was your day?"