I could tell by the way he walked from the bus to my house that the weight of the world was on my son’s shoulders. We had been navigating some pretty heavy things during this season. Just the stride of his walk set off alarms in my head that it was time to talk, really talk. As soon as he walked through the door I simply said, “Are you hungry?” I knew that his favorite gourmet meal from Whataburger would open a door for me.
I didn’t say much on the way there. We engaged in some small talk, with me acting as though I couldn’t see the cloud hovering above his head. We ordered our food and sat down. I began asking him questions about his day, his friends, and his favorite teacher and her super cool car. The wall began slowly to crumble, and he took a deep breath and let out a loud sigh. That was my moment, so I simply said, “What’s bothering you today buddy?”
We didn’t solve all the world’s problems that day, but we grew closer. I learned he worries about his friends way more than I thought he did. I learned he doesn’t feel smart even though he has straight A’s. I learned it works—my recipe, that is. You see, I have a recipe I use to get my teenagers to talk.
I use three simple things to open the door of conversation. I’ve found over the years that food, distraction, and questions are the key to communicating with teenagers. Oftentimes it just takes one of the three, but for the really big important moments, you might need to pull out all three at once!
1. Food. When you’re not sure where to start, try filling up their tummy. It could mean something simple like going to get their favorite drink or ice cream. But being intentional about creating a little space for conversation can go a long way with your teenager. Wait until they are a few bites in, and then start the conversation you’re wanting to have with them.
2. Distraction. We can’t always take them out to eat, or maybe they’re not hungry. That’s when the tool of distraction comes in handy. What you do will look different depending on your child. For my oldest, a little walk around our neighborhood is a great distraction for him. It gives him a new view and gets him moving. I simply walk next to him, allowing him to talk. For my squirrely second born, I have to step it up a little more. We have to be throwing a ball, shooting hoops, or risking my life by allowing him to drive in a nearby church parking lot. Once I get him moving and distracted, I begin digging into the conversation. It just takes a little distraction to give me the space I need to start them talking.
3. Questions. Whether it’s over food or over the sound of a basketball hitting the pavement, these moments create great spaces for you to ask good questions. No matter what you do to set the stage for a conversation, you have to bring good questions into the equation. If I want to know about a new friend my son has made and if I can trust that person, I might ask questions such as, How did you and _____ become friends? What do you like most about ______? These questions come off a lot better than saying something like, I’m unsure about this new friend of yours. Do they do stupid things?
Every statement you make as a parent will either open a door or deadbolt it. Teenagers can seem to speak a different language. It’s your job as a parent to learn that strange new language. Make space to allow them to speak and be heard. This is a short season and the sand in the hourglass is moving fast. Don’t miss moments to press in and learn more about your teenager and what’s on their mind. Eat the fries, take the walk, ask the questions!