“My son won’t talk to me. He just shuts down. All I get are one word answers.”
I hear this all the time. You know that your son is struggling, but you just can’t get him to tell you what is going on. Often your best attempts to draw him out only seem to create more resistance and possibly even anger.
I have found that teen boys can be a tough safe to crack, but they will talk if you know how to talk to them. Here are a couple tips for you to consider.
Use less words
Whether it is a short attention span or just the sound of your voice, your son may just tune out the majority of your words. It can be helpful to simply use less words. Sometimes, this means using short phrases and then being silent. “I love you and I am really worried about your grades” or “What you did was really inappropriate and I’m not sure how to handle it.”
It is your job as a parent to worry and engage your son in important life matters. However, if you lecture and go on and on you will lose your audience. Try using less words. Listen more.
Ask open ended questions
This can work in casual conversation as well as in more important discussions. If you ask close-ended questions, like “How was school today?” you will likely get short answers. Fine. Good. Grunt.
Open-ended questions require some thought. “What are you looking forward to this year?” “How could you have handled that situation differently?” You get the idea. Try to avoid the yes or no questions and you might get a little more information.
Talk while doing activities
It can be difficult to impossible for teenage boys to have intimate conversations with lots of eye contact. Often they are not even comfortable in their own skin, much less with sharing their thoughts and emotions. Any time you can talk while doing activities, take advantage of the opportunity. Many mothers tell me that their best conversations with their son happen while they are driving in the car. Are there any activities that you and your son can do together? Maybe fishing or golf with Dad or a trip to Gamestop with Mom. It could even be art, photography, music or just engaging in something they enjoy with them. Try it and you might be surprised.
Talk to him like an adult
Teenagers are in that awkward transitional period in between being a child and being an adult. Many times boys will react negatively to being treated “like a kid.” I think parents often do this unknowingly and without the intention of being condescending. Respect, image and ego are important to teenage boys. Some more than others. Sometimes the best way to get respect from your teen is by practicing treating him with respect. Ask him what he would do with a moral dilemma you are facing. Engage him on topics that are not parent-child related. Parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd from Parents.com has this helpful tip.
“Don’t pump him for information, but open up to him about your life. Tell him of a juicy incident at the office, let him in on a bit of family gossip, explain an outrageous piece of news. It’s complimentary to teens that you see them as old enough to be in on a few intimacies of your life. Although there are no guarantees, by letting a teen in on your life, he just may let you in on his.”
I have to be honest, this may never be easy. However, you can certainly relate to your teenage son in a way that encourages him to interact and engage. Use less words, ask open-ended questions, talk while doing activities and try talking to him like an adult. See what happens.