Having a useful conversation with your teen – one that counts when it needs to count – is an art.

It’s a finely balanced and carefully juggled conversation that will have an unknown outcome. 

You can’t possibly know EVERYTHING they are going to tell you, and they can’t possibly know EVERYTHING you are going to say. They may think they do, so aim to surprise them!

Read on for 6 top tips to keep you on track.

#1 Be a good listener

This is essential. 

Your teen won’t be inclined to open up if they think you are too busy for them, won’t take them seriously or will just brush them off. 

Your teen needs you to listen to them.

If you want to brush up on your listening skills, use this link for the blog post on listening skills here. 

#2 Zip your judgements

Your teen may have something tricky to tell you and will be testing you out. I know of one Dad whose son told him about a friend at school who was gay. The Dad’s advice to his son was, “Stay away from a kid like that. You don’t want a gay softie for a friend.” 

It turns out the friend was fictional, and the son had been talking about himself. 

The Dad’s on-the-spot judgements deeply damaged and affected his relationship with his son for years. 

Sure, you might not like what they’re telling you but at least they’re telling you. If you need help with what they share then reach out to another adult. Confidentially of course. 

#3 Ask Questions that Keep the Conversation Going

“Tell me more” is the most brilliant, multi-purpose question you can ask. 

The next most useful question will be a question that starts with the word “What.” These ‘what’ questions go along the lines of:

  • “What happened next?”
  • “What did/do you think about …?”
  • “What was the best/worst/hardest part of …?”

A little-known secret is that asking questions keeps you involved in the conversation without sharing your judgements. 

Stay focused on getting the whole story from them. Find out everything! And here’s a bonus – finding out everything means your brain is occupied with asking questions … not giving opinions and passing judgements. 

Questions – you’ve got to love them! 

#4 Remember tone and body language count too 

There is always unsaid communication happening when we engage in conversations. 

Our body language counts. 

Notice how you are feeling, what’s your body doing and telling you?

What’s your teenager’s body doing and telling you? Does it match the words they are saying?

We do need to ditch those opinions and judgements about now, there’s no space for them if we’re going to be amazing listeners!

#5 Resist the urge to Jump in with Solutions and Advice

When your teenager wants these, they’ll ask. 

If they don’t ask, it may well be because YOU have done your very best listening and they have worked out their problem, coming up with their own solution! 

Nice work!

#6 Ask them what They’re Thinking About Now

Wrap up a conversation by asking them, “What do you think you’ll do now?” Again, keep your opinions to yourself. If they share a solution that you can see will get them into more trouble, ask them, “What are some other ideas?” 

Impromptu brainstorming sessions are always a good idea. Make yourself busy by offering to write everything down for them. 

Zero judgements though! I’ve seen parents, at this stage in a conversation, close down a brainstorming session with the comment “You can’t do that.”

Zip it. Write it down.

Later you can go back to the rough list and help them add and delete. Often all it takes for an idea to die is to write it on a piece of paper where cold hard daylight will show it up as completely inappropriate. 

Where to from here?

Corita Kent said,  “There is no win and no fail. There is only make.”

After reading this blog post, what changes will you make so your conversations with your teen feel useful, productive and close?

Use this link to access my complimentary resource, ‘Having a Difficult Conversation.’