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How to talk to your teen when they start to tune you out

How to talk to your teen when they start to tune you out
Published November 11, 2023 Updated November 11, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

NEW YORK — Many parents lament that their once-chatty child starts shutting them out when they hit the teenage years. But you can still get through to them, said Dr Cara Natterson, a Los Angeles pediatrician and co-author of “This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained.”

You just have to change the way you communicate. Here’s how.

LIMIT LECTURES. In the book, Dr Natterson and her co-author Vanessa Kroll Bennett say the urge for parents to lecture their teen is strong, especially when they feel stressed or out of their depth.

“Typically, it’s rolling off them because it’s just words, words, words flying at them,” Dr Natterson said. Instead, take time to listen, she said, which turns a monologue into a conversation “and models for kids what it looks like to pay attention to another person.”

GET CURIOUS. If your teenager asks you something tough or surprising, such as “What is rape?,” Dr Natterson said to dig a little deeper. You might try saying: “That’s so interesting. What makes you ask that?”

Their answer will probably give you helpful context. Often, a sudden question stems from something they heard, read or saw.

“Then you can answer the question you are being asked,” based on the background information they provide, she said.

STAY IN CONVERSATION. Once you’ve broached a dread-inducing subject like hookups, it’s tempting to cross it off your list, Dr Natterson said. Keep going back to it. A 14-year-old is different from an 18-year-old, and as kids evolve, so do the issues they’re dealing with.

“Allow the conversation to become so routine that it’s a nothingburger,” she said. The best thing about a series of small talks, she said, is that there is space for you to get it wrong and then repair.

“Kids love when the adults in their lives own that they got something wrong,” she said. Let them “lord over you,” she said, for being fallible.

SHARE YOUR OWN PUBERTY HORROR STORIES SPARINGLY. If a teenager is enmeshed in some drama, telling them that one day they’ll laugh about it isn’t helpful, Dr Natterson said, because they don’t have the maturity to look very far down the road.

And offering up your own painful episodes only moves the focus from your teenager to you. Often teenagers, she said, just want adults to listen and offer their support.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.