As I've interacted with hundreds of parents over the years, I've come to the conclusion that if you are having trouble communicating with your teen, you are in the vast majority. Here are my five best tips for how to improve:
1. Make mealtime family time. A large amount of research has shown that teenagers who dine regularly at home with their families are more satisfied with life. They are better students, less likely to be sexually promiscuous, and tend to be less involved with drug and alcohol abuse. Families that dine together regularly are more connected to one another. Why? It's all about the communication that happens around the dinner table. Hectic schedules make dining together difficult, but the rewards are worth the effort.
2. Make bedtime communication time. I found that one of the best times to have good communication with my teens was their bedtime. This was a carryover from their younger years when we tucked them into bed and said a prayer. At bedtime I found them more in tune with talking about their day, their problems or whatever was on their mind. The relaxed atmosphere seems to work well for good communication. This is not a good time, however, for tougher conversations.
3. Have parent-child dates or hangout times. By the time kids are teenagers, they are very focused on their friends and peers. They are establishing their identities apart from Mom and Dad, but most are willing to do something fun with their parents; they still like to eat or shop. My habit was to have a monthly date with each of my children. Times like these create a relaxed atmosphere where communication comes easier.
4. Walk around the block. My good friend John Townsend, author and speaker extraordinaire, regularly took his sons on a walk around the block. At first they would complain, he said, but about the second time around the block "the floodgates of communication would open." Do whatever it takes to keep the communication lines open with your kids.
5. Listen more, talk less. Parents can find it challenging to really listen to their kids. It often seems easier to lecture and scold, but listening produces better results. Sometimes kids just want to talk and they aren't really looking for a parent's opinion or another lecture. When you feel you need to weigh in on a topic, it helps if you ask for your teen's permission to share your opinion. This gives them a feeling that you really care for and respect them. Remember, some of the best communication comes through listening. Listening is the language of love.