Between the virtual learning, lack of social interaction and intense social media pressure, it’s a pretty bleak time to be a teenager. And when you look beyond the iPad screen and the surly pout, you can tell that your kid is having a hard time…except they’ll never talk to you about it, of course. While there’s no instruction manual for parenting an adolescent, there is something you can do to improve the odds of getting your teen to offer up more than a shrug and a grunt, say experts. Ready? If you want your kid to share something about their day or how they’re feeling, you’re going to have to share something about yourself.
“Often, teens feel they are the only ones on the planet who feel lost, alone, ugly, weird, etc.,” Amber Trueblood, LMFT, tells us. “Sharing truths about your teen years with your children will allow them to better understand that others experience similar feelings.”
This also helps your teenager understand that you haven’t always been the grown-up (read: old and boring) person that they see every day. “When your teen understands that you too felt alone or dumb or anxious, it fosters connection and opens the path for real conversations and sharing,” adds Trueblood.
Exactly what you choose to disclose to your teenager will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. “If you know that your child is going through something and you want them to open up about it, you can gently reflect on some personal moments of your own that perhaps they can relate to,” says Jennifer Kelman, LCSW, CPC and JustAnswer parenting expert. Here’s what that might look like: ‘I know I am completely old-fashioned and don’t have much of a clue about how things work now, but I can remember a time when I went through something and it felt really hard.’
Not sure how to break the ice? Self-deprecating humor works really well with teenagers, says Kelman. Let’s say your child is struggling socially and having a difficult time at school, for example. You could then say something like, ‘I can’t remember if I told you this, but when I was 16, I was walking in the cafeteria with my lunch and the floor must have been wet, and I slipped, my food went everywhere and I was mortified! I will never forget it but thankfully, I can now look back on it with laughter. Not so easy in the moment, but looking back, it just makes me laugh.’
“You might not get the response at that moment, but the teenager will remember and often will come on their own to re-engage around it,” says Kelman.
And even if you’re not trying to get your kid to reveal something deeply personally but just hoping they’ll tell you something (anything!) about their day, you may have better luck if you start the conversation by sharing something about your own day. (Think: ‘Urgh, I was so frustrated at the store today when they were all out of the things I needed, and then I dropped my wallet on the floor and couldn’t find any parking! What about you, sweetie? Did anything annoy you about today?’). This lets your kid know that you’re open to conversations about life’s little struggles.