Your teenager really does want to talk to you about their personal life, but they are not going to and it’s going to feel a little awkward when they start getting cryptic and protective with information. If your child is holding back things from you, you may be asking yourself, “What Happened, when my kids were younger, they had no problem talking to me.? Do they hate me now?” That’s what it feels like, doesn’t it? Like suddenly, when they turned twelve, they decided you weren’t cool anymore and shut down communication. That’s not what happened. They didn’t decide you weren’t cool anymore; they decided they couldn’t trust you with important information anymore, because they knew you might not like what you were going to hear.
Here is a typical conversation with an eight-year-old boy and his dad.
The child comes home from school, and his dad says, “Hey buddy, how did things go at school today?” His son replies, “Awesome! The principal bought our class ice cream bars, because we came in first in the science fair. Our class built a robot that walked and talked.” Then dad says, “That’s great buddy, what else happened?” Then his son goes into a twenty-minute blow-by-blow of all the things that happened that day. The communication is clear and uninhibited. Most eight-year-olds love talking to their parents about their day and everything in it. They can tell you everything in 3rd grade, because you are not going to have a problem with most of it.
They have no problem talking to you, because right now their world is your world, and there is no tension. The tension comes when social expectations come. The social pressure that you felt growing up doesn’t compare at all to what your child may be feeling today. You must take those old lenses off when dealing with your child. Social media and smart phones have changed the social landscape completely. There is a lot more information that your teenager must process today than you ever did. I’m not trying to insult you, but you need a baseline understanding that their social world is incredibly demanding, and it is adding tremendous pressure to their lives.
Let’s fast forward six years to when the same child is fourteen. This is how the conversation may go now. “Hey buddy, how did things go in school today?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “I went to school.” “I know, but did anything happen?” “No, I just went to school.” “Okay, I was just wondering how your day went.” “I told you, fine.”
It doesn’t feel good when the conversation goes like that. It hurts. It feels disrespectful and rude. It is easy to take that personally and get offended, but let’s look at it for minute.
The question “how was your day” is a seemingly common and basic question to you, but for a teenager, “how was your day” is a loaded question. Like I said earlier, they want to tell you, but they will not, because they don’t trust you with the real answer to that question. The real answer most likely will raise some red flags with you. So, instead of going through the hassle of having to explain all of that to you, they blow you off with, “Fine, my day was fine.” You know there is more to it than that, so you get frustrated and try to pressure them for that information. They shut down harder, and now there is a wall.
It’s very ironic because at the time that communication needs to be the clearest between you and your child, it is going to be the most challenging. They’ll put up walls and shut down emotionally, right at the time when you need to know what’s going on in their lives. That boy’s dad probably didn’t need to know all about the science fair, but what’s happening in his fourteen-year-old’s life now is more crucial because there are potentially dangerous roads ahead.
At first glance you might say that the communication gap is a teenager’s fault. If they really loved and respected their parents, they would be honest with them. I’m going to be upfront with you and say something that might be hard for you to hear but most of the communication problems between teenagers and adults are the result of bad communication techniques coming from the adults.
Honest and clear communication is not the responsibility of young minds that are still developing. It is our job as adults to foster an environment that values honesty over desired behavior. If we favor “right” behavior over honesty, we inadvertently will create liars out of our children. Having behavior expectations without truly understanding the complexities of their social world can create dishonesty in their communication with us.
They want to talk to you, but they need you to let them know it’s safe to do so. My advice, do a lot more listening than lecturing. Try to understand their world from their perspective. Take the old lenses off and listen.
Adapted from “Talking to Brick Walls” by Mike Donahue. Mikedonahue.co