Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to listen to your teenager after taking time to “just notice” the rhythm of your family’s week and making observations about how your son or daughter is handling the lull moments of your home. How did it go? Did you find it hard or easy to do? Were you tempted to “say something?”
This is where most parents of teens have difficulty. They want to — have to — say something. For a teenager (who is on the receiving end of things), having a parent just say something is akin to having their parent just barge into their room unannounced. Consider for a moment how that might make them feel.
So, assuming you’ve endeavored to connect with your teenager by listening with your heart (see part one), where do you go from there? The next step to connecting with your teenager involves asking a question. Think of it as your “politely knocking” on the “door” of their room (e.g. heart). The key aspect of asking a question, though, is making sure to base your question on what you have just heard your son or daughter saying.
“What is my teenager saying?” you may ask (as you are, hopefully not, pulling out your hair?). This is the tricky part because teenagers are saying sooo much and they honestly are not consciously aware of half of what they are saying — through their (micro)facial expressions, body language, snorts and sighs. As (adult) parents, it can be easy to slip into expecting teens to be self-aware. The unfortunate aspect of this parental expectation is that it can “blow up” in your face, which then makes it hard for parents to know what to say and when. However, your teenager’s “disconnect” provides a wonderful opportunity for you to connect with them in these moments (prior to any outburst, that is). So, here are some suggestions for the asking part of connecting with your teenager.
First, internally reflect on what you have heard from your teenager. Try to identify with the “eyes and ears” of your heart what you have heard them saying.
Second, ask in an unrushed open-ended way things like: How was your day? They may say, “Ugh!” So, you could reply with your equivalent “ugh”-like countenance and sound, and ask, “What made it __ugh__ for you?” Then say nothing. Just wait for maybe 10 to 15 seconds. While you wait — patiently — make sure to observe your teen’s facial expression and body language. This will clue you in to whether she doesn’t (really) want to talk about it or if she is busy with other things on her mind. Perhaps she is truly having a hard time identifying her real feelings.
If you’ve asked questions like this with a genuine interest and patience, and your teen still doesn’t respond in a way that makes sense to you (the adult), then say, “I’m not sure if I fully understand, but I want to. If you’d like to tell me at a later time, I’ll be here.” While you might not think that much occurred in the exchange, rest assured there is MUCH that occurred. Eventually (it may be 5 minutes, months or year), your teen will recall your continual efforts and attempts to connect with them on an emotional level.
Connecting with teenagers in this way will help them learn how to make connections within their own heart and mind on a deeper level that will sustain them through their adult years.
Go ahead and try out this “asking” strategy! It may take several attempts. That’s OK. It’s part of the process. Let us know how it goes. Remember, being a parent and endeavoring to adjust to the changing mental and emotional terrain of your teenager takes lots of patience and courage. Keep at it! Your investment in them will pay dividends — for them — for years to come.