Communication is a two-way street. If you want to get through to your teen without getting eye rolls, shrugs, and monosyllabic grunts in response, then you need to learn how to talk with a teen.
Usually, this isn’t a big problem. You talk with your teen all the time, right?
When you ask, “How was school?” and she says, “Fine.”
When you ask, “Are you hungry?” and he says, “No.”
When you ask if he finished his homework and he mutters monosyllabically.
You get the idea. This is what I call “surface talk.” It’s all about the words, not the meaning behind them.
And here’s where things get complicated. Your teen can answer you with words, but she’s thinking something entirely different. How do you know? Because while you’re speaking on the surface, she’s using the upper levels of your home to communicate with you, too.
She can hear not only what you’re saying but also how you say it and what tone of voice you’re using—all without looking at you. She’s getting a read on whether or not she should take what you’re saying seriously.
So, if this would be a typical example of your conversations with your teen, you’re probably wondering why she’s not taking you seriously.
It’s because she’s hearing you telling her something at the surface level while also getting signals from your upper levels that tell her that it would be okay to just blow off what you say. What are these upper levels? They’re what I call the nonverbal language of parenting.
When you’re using your upper levels to communicate with your teen, it’s almost as if you’re talking to yourself. Your inner monologue is running alongside the conversation that you are actually having, and it’s really important for helping you make sense of what your teen is saying.
The trick is to use the nonverbal elements of communication—facial expression, tone of voice, body language, even your choice of words—to engage her.
So if you want to start having better conversations with your teen so she actually listens and responds well, below are some ideas for how to do just that.
Fix Your Face
One of the most critical elements of communicating with your teen is facial expression. It’s more important than volume or even what you say.
When you’re trying to communicate with your teen, it’s easy to get frustrated and make a face.
Or maybe you’ll get an eye roll.
If that’s how you respond when your teen is being difficult, don’t be surprised if she doesn’t want to talk with you. She’s seeing that face and knows that it means something bad.
Here are some suggestions for how to avoid the frustration face:
Work on your patience—and your temper. When you’re mad, count slowly to ten before talking with your teen. Take deep breaths, too. It’s much harder to be mad when you’re breathing deeply, and it’ll help you communicate more clearly with your teen.
Practice what you want to say before talking with your teen. This is especially helpful if your teen pushes all of your buttons—it can help you plan exactly what to say and how to say it.
Make a conscious effort to smile at your teen—even when she’s giving you a hard time. Your words will carry more weight if you can back them up with facial expressions that communicate kindness and supportiveness.
Keep an eye on the tone of voice you use when talking with your teen. If your voice is whiny or exasperated, your teen is going to focus on that instead of what you’re saying.
You might not be able to stop the eye rolls and other facial expressions from happening when you talk with your teen, but try at least not to make a face when she’s in front of you.
Fix Your Voice
Another significant element of communication is tone of voice. The words you choose are important, but the way in which you say them is just as significant.
When I think about tone in terms of communicating with teens, there are two kinds I focus on: kind and supportive versus judgmental and condescending.
When your teen makes a mistake, what do you typically say? Do you sound annoyed or exasperated, or do you try to be understanding?
If you sound judgmental and condescending when your teen isn’t being perfect, she’s not going to believe anything else you have to say. She’ll just shut down because she knows that whatever comes out of your mouth next will be critical.
Notice what works and what doesn’t work when talking with your teen. If the only time you get a good response from her is when you’re giving her directions on how to do something, then that’s what you should do—give her directions.
If you’re doing more talking than your teen is, try to give him enough time to respond and let him know that his voice is just as important as yours (this is pretty difficult as a parent of teens, I know).
Fix Your Body Language
Body language can be even more powerful than facial expressions and tones of voice. Your body language speaks volumes about how you’re feeling, which is critical when talking with your teen.
In some instances, it may be even more important to pay attention to what your body language says than to what comes out of your mouth.
If your arms are crossed, for instance, and you’re standing in a closed-off position, your teen is going to feel like she’s about to be reprimanded or told what not to do.
Fix Your Eye Contact
Eye contact is another nonverbal cue that can have a big effect on the outcome of your conversations with your teen. When you’re having a conversation with someone, it’s normal to look at their face for between 60 and 70 percent of the time. If you find yourself looking at other parts of their body, they might feel like you’re distracted or you don’t believe what they’re saying.
When talking with your teen, make sure to maintain eye contact about 60 percent of the time. It’s also important not to stare at her for an extended period of time because that can be intimidating; instead, it should be quick glances in order to show your teen you’re paying attention.
These are just some of the best ways to talk to your teen without getting eye rolls. We do hope that these tips will inspire you to have better communication with your teen from now forward.