How To Foster Communication With Your Tween/Teen
I think we can all agree that the adolescent years seem daunting enough as it is, let alone with the addition of technology and social media. Tween/teen mental health is becoming increasingly problematic. So, what can we do to offer our children the possibility of best outcomes?
Create opportunities for open and honest communication.
Though this may not alone save your children from what can be a very difficult stage of life, if you have done the work to promote good communication with your children, then at least you will be aware of what is going on with them. In order to promote this type of communication, you need to create opportunities; and I’m not talking about asking, “Is everything okay?” once and when your tween mutters, “Uh-huh,” you walk away. I’m talking forced opportunities without distractions where the only thing you can do is talk.
Take a weekly drive without devices, and ask each other questions. Take an evening walk with no access to technology and have a devoted topic of conversation for the walk. One of the most important things that you can do during these conversations is this: nothing. Don’t judge, don’t criticize, don’t push. If you want to improve your communication with your child, you need to make communicating a reinforcing experience.
When the pandemic began, we had to make some pretty significant changes to maintain the mental health of everyone in our home. I had a 13-, 11-, and 9-year-old in the house, and we couldn't just sit inside all day, every day. So, I started walking. And I started inviting one or more of my kids to join me. And at first, the conversation didn’t flow totally naturally. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve had solo time with my children – no distractions, no devices, no activities that we’re rushing to or from; just us and our voices.
It took some time; a few walks to get beyond just the surface level conversations that we were used to having. But little by little, it became more comfortable, and the kids (and I) started to open up. We had some of the most amazing and memorable conversations during these walks at the start of the pandemic, and it’s now become a practice that we continue even as we have started to resume the crazy schedules of pre-pandemic. There have been a lot of difficulties from this last year and a half, but there have been some major blessings too, and this is absolutely one of them.
Sometimes it can be difficult to come up with things to talk about with your tweens/teens. Start by talking about things that are preferred for your child. Engage your baseball fanatic child in a conversation about their favorite team and players. Ask your Tik-Tok obsessed teen to tell you about some of the videos they have been enjoying lately. What you are doing is making your child feel comfortable by talking about things that are easy for them, and then you can gradually build up to deeper and more meaningful conversations over time.
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This is a great jumping-off point for opening up the doors that may have been closed with your children. Share your responses with your tween/teen and be sure to provide them a safe space to share their own.