As a parent, teacher, mentor, school administrator, aunt, uncle, or any adult – you may have teenagers in your life that you would like to connect with. Perhaps you’d like to talk with them, be accepted by them, and have an over-all positive connection with them. Depending on the teenager, this can be a daunting and potentially impossible endeavor. Every teenager is different, and these may not work on yours – but it’s worth a shot if you’d really like to get into the lives of your teenagers. If you have additional ideas that have worked for you, please add a comment. Thanks!
1. Don’t try to be cool. An adult who is trying to be cool looks like an idiot. You may think you’re being sly and natural. You’re not. So stop trying to be cool for your teenagers. They already think you’re lame – so the sooner you accept that you are (in their eyes) the better. Teenagers tend to prefer an adult who is comfortable with themselves – it puts them at ease. So just relax and be yourself.
2. Stop talking. I get it, you’re nervous. You feel like you need to feel the air…with the sound of your own voice. Relax. Maybe if you’d just chill for a little bit, your teenager might feel comfortable enough to start talking. But it is possible for angsty teens to sit for hours in silence – just to make you feel like an ass. So don’t say anything along the lines of, “We’ll just sit here until you start talking.”
3. Don’t offer them a challenge. Saying something like, “I can sit here all day until you start talking,” will only challenge them to do exactly that. Beware of trying to intimidate them into talking. You’ll only make them trust you less.
4. Give up control. Just because you’re the adult doesn’t mean you should be in control. If they don’t want to talk to you – let them know that’s fine – and go about your business. The minute you start trying to control them, in any way, you are officially “against them,” and they will not respect you. Give them some freedom and independence in your interactions, treat them like a peer – and you may be surprised at how well they respond. Teenagers become obsessed with wanting to be adults, so treat them like one (despite their possibly immature ability to actually act like one).
5. Don’t bring up Myspace or Facebook. This is related to #1, but it’s important enough for it’s own item. Just because you read a newsletter, watched a news story, or heard people talking about myspace or facebook – does not make you informed enough to talk about it. Even if you use these applications, it’s kind of awkward to talk about them. Yes, teens may talk about them to one another, but talking with an adult about them is weird. So don’t. *As a parent, if you are concerned about your teenager’s online safety, then obviously bringing up myspace and facebook is essential to your parenting plan. Also, if your teenager brings it up, then it’s an okay topic to discuss (this goes back to giving them control).
6. Ask smart “how was your day?” questions. Asking, “How was your day?” will most likely get you the typical teenager response of “fine.” To actually engage them, ask them more detailed questions. The better you know the teen, the better your questions should be. If you had an interesting encounter during your day, share it with them – and ask them if anyone was (an ass, super nice, bossy, etc) during their day. This will give them an opportunity to relate to you. But be natural. Again, don’t try to be cool. Just be genuine.
7. Feel comfortable with their language. I realize it’s inappropriate for teenagers to swear in class and whatnot, but if you’re an adult who is somewhat comfortable with “filthy language” then let it slide when they’re with you. Of course, make sure you’re following any rules or policies if you’re in your work setting, but letting them know it’s okay to relax and talk freely can be quite liberating for both of you. An adult that lets them swear (if they swear) is allowing them to be at their level (rather than adult enforcing no-swearing rules as a way to control). If swearing is offensive to you, let them know in a respectful way. Start by not judging them, “I just want to let you know, I don’t really care if you swear outside of our time together because you can do what you want, it just makes me kind of uncomfortable when you do it around me.”
8. Listen. Listening to a teenager is different than not talking. When they’re sharing with you, or just chatting or bull-shitting around – listen to what they’re saying. Don’t jump all over them or slip into your authority role too quickly. Just listen.
9. Don’t Judge. This is part of listening. Don’t judge your teenager. Yes, they may be saying and behaving in ridiculous ways. If it’s not your role to control them, then don’t. Let them be. You can let them know your opinion about things without being judgmental. Basically, let them know that you accept them for who they are – not what they do. Everyone needs to be accepted – children, teens, and adults – so this is not really unique to teenagers, but it’s important to them.
10. Utilize Car Conversations. Driving a car with a teenage passenger next to you is a great way to have a conversation. It’s less intimidating as you can avoid that sometimes uncomfortable eye contact.
11. Give Genuine Compliments. The best compliments are given regarding personal characteristics. This is a great way for you to encourage the positive traits in your teenager. Compliment their ability to make good friends, how nice they are to people, how helpful they are, how thoughtful, how hard-working, etc.
12. Respect What’s Important to Them. As an adult, you’ve learned a thing or two about what’s important in your life. Don’t put those values on your teen. If sports, grades, friends, prom, or key club are the most important thing in their life – respect that. Don’t try to change it. Be supportive and understanding, even if you think they’re acting crazy by putting all their energy into trying to impress someone at school. If that’s what’s important to them, then you’re there to support that. (Unless it’s dangerous behavior like doing drugs).
14. Speak your teenagers love language. To connect with your teen and communicate your love for them, I highly recommend learning about their “love language.” Check out this book (there are Love Languages for Children and Partners, as well) for great ideas on speaking your teenagers love language.
15. Have fun! Teenagers are a fun species of humans. They think differently than most of us, and they can make your life more interesting and fun. Enjoy your time with them and have fun!
16. Find common interests. This one comes from a reader, Ashley: “If you find you both like a certain band or read a certain book you already have something to communicate about. As an 18 year old I found adults that I can relate to easily approachable. I knew that since I could relate to them in one way, maybe I could relate to them in others. That’s how I chose who I can trust and not.”
17. Give them Info they Want/Need. This one comes from a reader, Allie: “… we also guide these kids in the right direction. My husband and I have had to give these kids the awkward “sex talk” (we both waited), advice on education and working, among other topics. We have our limits though and will be authoritarian in certain situations. So, let me add that if they aren’t getting the answers that they need at home, they will get it somewhere else. Teens crave this sort of info and teens deserve to get a competent and honest answer from their parents. However, if they don’t get it from home, they will go someplace else to get the answers.”
Have other ideas that have worked for you, please leave a comment below. Thanks!