Summer is here! Hopefully during the next three months, you are making some time for a family vacation, or sitting by the pool, and grilling burgers in the backyard! Summer is also the perfect time for communication.
When it comes to successful communication, there are countless issues involved. Tailoring a specific plan of action can help, especially when dealing with difficult or sensitive issues. The following ten strategies can hopefully help you develop a successful plan for healthy communication with your teen during the summer months:
1. Talk in a relaxed environment for your teen.
When you’ve got something important to discuss with your teen, or are just hopeful to sit and catch-up, a successful talk can often depend on a relaxed environment. One mom told me that her son loves music. A great way to get him talking about his day, his dating life, and more, is to turn on the music he likes.
Where is your teen most relaxed? Watching a ball game? Playing video games? Spending a day on the boat with you? Helping to create an environment that is comfortable, relaxing, and fun to your teen will promote openness and a sense of security.
2. Be prepared for anything.
I have had numerous conversations with teens who have shared with me things I would have never imagined would come out of their mouths. But when you make yourself available and they begin to see you as one with whom they can place their trust, you might just be surprised at how much they begin to share.
3. Ask questions.
If your teen doesn’t automatically share, maybe the right place to begin is by asking him or her some questions. Open-ended questions (ones they can’t answer simply “yes,” “no,” or “maybe”) are the place to start. For example, if your teen comes home angry or upset over something that happened at work, practice or a party, instead of asking:
“Do you want to talk about it?” or,
“Are you upset?”
focus on questions that lead to a broader response, such as:
“What happened today that made you feel this way?” or,
“How do you think you should handle the situation?”
4. Talking about the little things goes a long way.
Ten minutes of daily small talk can go far when building a broader level of trust with your teen. What interests your teen? Start there. Sports, goals, music, friends, hobbies? As your teen sees that you are interested in the little things in his or her life, your teen will begin to trust you more when it comes to the bigger issues.
5. Show your full attention.
Read what a teen named Jessica recently e-mailed me: “I know my mom loves me. But I don’t think she knows how to show it. At least not like she used to. I know she’s busy and I appreciate all she does to take care of my brothers and me. But, sometimes I just want to talk about me, my life…my stuff. She’s so concerned about her hair all of the time, her clothes, and talking on the phone to Stacey (her best friend). Sometimes I wonder who the adult in the relationship really is.”
When your teen chooses to talk, you don’t want to miss the moment. Turn off the TV, the phone, everything…and turn on your full attention!
6. Don’t be afraid to schedule your teen into your day.
I know parents who literally plan “meetings” with their teens. These parents take advantage of communication opportunities (even if they are brief) such as breakfast, when their teens come through the door after practice or work, or right before bedtime.
It may take a little experimentation and persistence. But work to find those moments in each day when your teen is most apt to talk. Get these times on your daily calendar this summer and live by them. They could be the most valuable minutes of your day, and theirs!
7. Write notes.
Communication isn’t only verbal. One thing I remember most about my years at home were the notes and letters my mom wrote to me. Through the years, she shared poems, Scriptures, encouragement, prayers, challenges, and much more. I learned much about my mom in her letters—about her character, virtues, and her desire to place God as the priority in her life. Her words provided much more than just the uninhibited opportunity to communicate to me whatever was on her heart and mind in that moment. These letters also sent me the message that my mom was approachable concerning any issues in life that I faced.
There are times when written communication can allow you the opportunity to express your convictions more clearly and uninhibitedly. If it’s been a while since you’ve truly connected with your teen on a heart level, it could be that a personal note from you might be exactly the kick-start your relationship needs to begin authentic communication.
8. Hitting “pause” is okay.
I heard a story about a nine-year-old boy who attended a wedding with his mom. asked, “Why is the bride wearing white?”
His mom thought about her answer for a moment and replied, “The bride is in white because she’s happy and this is the happiest day of her life.” The boy thought for a moment then said, “Well then why is the groom wearing black.”
Kids can ask questions that leave us perplexed at best. If uncomfortable topics come up in the conversation, it’s okay to hit pause and take some time to consider your response. Take the matter to prayer, discuss the topic with a spouse, friend, or pastor, and then re-visit it with your teen at a later date. Being a connected parent doesn’t mean that you always have all the right answers and advice at a moments notice. Be honest with your teen by communicating that you need adequate time to consider the topic. Give your teen a timeframe in which the two of you will convene to continue the conversation. Then stick to your word and approach the subject again after you have taken time to consider the issue.
9. Listening is golden.
The most important part of communication is not talking. It is listening.
I regularly hear from teens who say that Mom and Dad seldom “listen to what I am really trying to say.” I realize some teens also use this as an excuse when trying to win a battle against Mom and Dad. But sending a clear message to your teen that you are listening, even when you may not agree with the message they are sending, could greatly benefit the outcome of the conversation and your relationship.
10. “Avoidance” is usually a poor choice.
If you choose, for whatever reason, not to communicate with your teen about a particularly difficult topic, know that you are still sending a message by saying nothing at all.
For instance, topics such as sex, homosexuality, and divorce are sometimes treated as taboo topics among families today. As a parent, if you choose to ignore discussing these and various other topics with your teen and instead assume your teen will figure it all out on their own, trouble could be right around the corner.
Several years ago, I counseled with a Michael, a teenage boy contemplating suicide. His desire to end his life was the product of an ongoing struggle with porn that had begun years previously. He shared with me that his father, a pastor, would not discuss the matter with him. Michael said he felt “all alone” in dealing with this on his own. The silence from his dad left the son feeling all alone, and, as he stated, “confused, dirty, and worthless.”
Many teens are hungry for help and guidance. Again, discussing such matters with your teen may be uncomfortable to you at times. But failing to do so could be much more harmful. No matter how inadequate, underprepared, uncomfortable, or uninvolved you may feel, your teen needs to hear from you. If you choose not to communicate with your teen, he or she will “listen” elsewhere for answers.
It may be years from now before you see the full reward of consistently pursuing open lines of communication with your teen. Right now, it may appear to you that the last thing your teen wants from you is a conversation. You may have been trying for years to connect and feel as though you have already implemented much of this information, only to hear silence from the other end. Don’t hang up! Keep the line open. Remember, Satan has removed the gloves and is daily fighting to deceive you into believing that you are ineffective in communicating with your teen.
It is never too late to begin to communicate. You cannot change what didn’t happen in the past. You can only control what you choose to do now. Take the steps to build a stronger relationship with your teen. So, grab a glass of lemonade, sit down with your teen, start a conversation, and enjoy getting to know your teen, even more, this summer!