Parents often accept the breakdown of communication with their preteens and teens.
We’ve been conditioned to think that’s it’s normal for our kids to hide away in their bedroom, never speaking to their family, only coming out to grab some food before sullenly re-entering their cave.
Just thinking about my kids acting like that makes me so sad.
But it’s totally within the realm of possibility.
When we have a disagreement, their first response is to storm off to their room. Despite having never been allowed to this, they try it every time we have to have a hard conversation.
Sometimes I’d welcome a bit of silent sulking.
But in all seriousness, how well you listen to their childhood chatter is going to have a direct influence on how much they talk to you as they mature. If you are constantly too busy to hear their homemade parachute ideas or answer their theoretical volcano in Texas questions, then why would they come to you when they’re older?
So set the tone now or change the tone if you’re already in the throws of frosty silence.
Here are six ways to communicate with preteens and teenagers.
1. Ask them questions.
Ask goofy, serious, funny, irrelevant, current events, history, or whatever questions.
Last week my husband was taking a quiet group of teenagers who didn’t know each other on a church trip. He started asking them Taco Bell themed questions. What is your favorite thing at Taco Bell? Best and worst Taco Bell dining experience? Give yourself a nickname based on a Taco Bell menu item. This really broke the ice for Chalupa Chip, Enchirito Riley, and Jermayonaise.
Being silly opens the door to being serious.
If you’re not good at coming up with questions, print some.
There are tons of free printable questions on Pinterest to get your kids talking.
You can’t force sincere answers, but you can refuse to give up and you can take the time to listen.
If you ask enough questions, you’ll eventually hit on one that will get them riled up enough to have an engaging conversation. Then you just have to figure out how to ask more questions like that.
2. Do a devotional together.
These parent-child devotionals are really neat and a great way to communicate with preteens and teens.
I strongly encourage you to read the devotional together. It may be awkward at first but push through it. This is one of the most important activities you can do with your kids. It is foundational for their spiritual growth and opens an important dimension of your parent/child connection.
Encourage your preteen/teen to answer the questions, but even if they don’t, keep it up.
Don’t quit even if they act like they hate it. I promise they are getting something out of hearing your answers and listening to you read the devotional to them.
3. Start a letter writing journal.
Write letters to them at least once a week and leave it on their bed.
Tell them the stories of when you were a kid, how you met your spouse, how you chose their name, your biggest fears, or whatever.
Invite them to write back. Even if they don’t, they’ll have a journal filled with loving letters from you. Can you imagine having a journal like that from your grandmother? A book filled with my Mimi’s answers to questions I never thought to ask would be among my most precious possessions.
You can do this in a simple notebook or buy a fun journal with prompts. There are many to choose from on Amazon.
Whatever you choose, will be a great step toward clearing the way for honest communication.
4. Play “Would You Rather?” at the dinner table.
If you’ve never heard of the game, “Would You Rather,” it’s basically just off the wall questions like “Would you rather live in a house shaped like a circle or a house shaped like a triangle?”
It’s great to get people talking because all the questions are just opinions or personal preferences. But when someone disagrees with you, you’ve got to explain how a triangle shaped house makes much better use of the square footage than a circle one. I mean, duh.
One of the sneaky things this game does is it teaches your family how to disagree and communicate respectfully.
There will not be as much heat in a disagreement over the best superpower as over age-appropriate curfews, but the way you discuss and disagree about silly things will create a template for how you disagree, communicate, and compromise in the future.
*A note: In every deck, there are some questions that we didn’t deem appropriate for our family. They weren’t necessarily bad, we just didn’t want to have a conversation about farts at the dinner table or ever. So the rule in our family is that mom or dad reads the questions. That way if we pull a card that has a question we don’t want to deal with, we just skip it.
If you’d rather have more straightforward questions, the TableTopics sets are awesome.
They are sold in themed sets and you can buy one set or a box of three at a slight discount. They’re small enough to just keep on the dining room table all the time so you always have questions ready to discuss.
5. Establish family rules about electronics.
Set parameters that encourage engagement.
For example, have a rule that there are no electronics at the table during meal time. Put all the phones in a bowl in the middle of the table and no one gets to look at them for one hour.
If your child uses their phone as an alarm clock, buy them an actual alarm clock so they don’t need their phone to wake up. Have the charging station in the kitchen and set a cut off time each night. At the designated time, ALL electronics go to the charging station until the morning.
And when I say all electronics, I mean all.
It may not be your preteen that is putting noise into the channel of your communication.
A few days ago my sometimes dramatic preteen daughter was having a hard time getting her dad’s attention because he was engrossed in a text conversation. She stopped talking for a moment then said, “Is the person you’re texting more important to you than I am?”
My equally dramatic husband recognized his mistake and immediately threw the phone across the room onto the couch. I hope she will always demand to be heard, but I’m afraid that at a certain point she will stop.
Because at a certain point they do.
6. Take them on dates.
Plan a date with your child. Make it special and exciting because spending time alone with them is special and exciting.
Go out to eat dinner together. Have a conversation where you are completely engaged because you’re not at home trying to multi-task. Bring the TableTopics Conversation starters if you need to. Listen actively. Try to avoid any negative talk. This isn’t the time to address how messy their room has been lately.
After dinner, go do something active together.
Try to avoid the movies because you won’t be able to talk to each other, but instead, go bowling or skating or play putt-putt golf or do an escape room.
Again, it may be awkward at first. But so are most first dates. That doesn’t mean you should quit trying. Keep it up.
And I know that by Friday you’re tired.
You want to put on your comfy clothes and relax while watching your favorite show.
But if your child is ten-years-old, you only have about 400 weekends left with them at home. Use them wisely.
This season of life may feel like a frigid winter, but you can warm it up. It will take work from you and it may seem like your child isn’t thawing at all. But slowly they will warm back up.
What is your biggest struggle to communicate with preteens and teenagers? Tell us in the comments!