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How to talk to your teenager

How to talk to your teenager

Did someone flip a switch and replace your sweet kid with a moody stranger? Obviously you have a teenager in the house. Now is a great time to get reacquainted—by having conversations that cut through the murk and help bring you closer. How you communicate makes all the difference of course. “Don’t be afraid to be straight up,” says Sarah Burningham, author of How to Raise Your Parents: A Teen Girl’s Survival Guide. “Teens are dying to be treated like adults, and letting them know where they stand is a way to do that.” Here’s how to handle some all-too-common scenarios:

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Hours ago you asked your son to take out the trash, and he still hasn’t done it.  

Try this: To get your teen to do chores, remove yourself from the equation. Make them his responsibility, says psychologist Linda Sonna, Ph.D., author of The Everything Parenting a Teenager Book: A Survival Guide for Parents! Ask, “When do you plan to get started?” That works because you’re putting the onus on him while giving him a say in the process. Then you can simply prompt him (“The trash?”) and skip the harangue. “Because it’s on our mind, we think it’s on theirs—but it isn’t,” Sonna says.

Just don’t: Expect a speedy response and scream, “Do it now!” If you can stay calm, your teen will stay calm.

Your daughter is always out with her best friend—and you’re wondering what they’re up to.  

Try this: “Teens don’t want to tell you everything, but that doesn’t mean they’re keeping big secrets,” says Burningham. Still you need to know enough to protect them—and to be part of their lives. So how do you have a real dialogue rather than an interrogation? “A lot of teens are prone to what I call one-word-itis,” Burningham says, “But you can get longer answers if you catch them in a social mood—at meals rather than when they’re on the way out, for example. Talk loosely about your day and follow up with open-ended questions like, “By the way, what did you and Mindy end up doing?” If something your daughter says raises a red flag, be up front about it: “Are you sure there isn’t anything you want to discuss with me?”

Just don’t: Shut down the exchange with a barrage of questions. That will only put your teen on the defensive.

Last semester's report card arrives, and your daughter’s grades are poorer than expected.T  

Try this: For the more than 2,000 teens Burningham spoke to for her book, nothing was more painful than disappointing their parents. When your teen lets you—and herself—down, adds Sonna, involve her in a problem-solving conversation. Keep in mind that the grade might represent her best effort in a tough class. If she’s overwhelmed, help her devise a plan—to drop a part-time job, for example, or learn better study habits.

Just don’t: “Use your disappointment as a weapon,” says Burningham. “‘Those grades aren’t acceptable’ makes teens feel they aren’t good enough and what’s the point.”

How to talk to your teenager: first heartbreak

Your son gets dumped by his first girlfriend.  

Try this: “It’s important for kids to learn that setbacks aren’t the end of the world, but also that they don’t have to move on too soon,” says Burningham. “Just be there to listen. ‘I’m really sorry this happed to you—is there anything I can do?’ is all you need to say.” You might also share a story from your adolescence to show that you empathize, suggests Sonna.

Just don’t: Analyze the breakup or assume it’s your child’s fault (“You spent way too much time together”). And don’t dismiss his feelings by telling him he’s young. Heartbreak hurts at any age.