How to keep communication channels open with your teen

By Susan Pohorski

The mother of a soon-to-be high school student recently admitted she doesn’t want her daughter to go to high school. She’s afraid of what her sweet girl will become, afraid of the changes as teens struggle to separate from their parents and become more independent. 

Her confession started a lively discussion among a group of our friends about our own teen years. Things we never told our parents. Stories of what we did when Mom and Dad weren’t around and things that were too embarrassing to tell them about. I don’t think that was helpful, but finally the conversation turned to ideas that could help maintain good communication during the teen years. 

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Dad driving with daughter in the car
Some teens will open up to their parents while driving in the car.

Dashboard confessional
One mom said her daughter would not open up unless they were driving in the car. Talking to the windshield was easier than having to make eye contact. Another friend loved driving her son to school (their private school was about 10 miles away). She used the time to have good conversations with her boy. 

Even when it was hard, her son opened up to her. She used his nickname to let him know it was safe. She shared her own struggles too. The car became their special place. 

Once when she got called to the school office because he turned over a table in class, it became something they could both laugh about. 

“What is going on?” she asked. “Who was it? What was it about?” Turned out another student was enticing him with candy and wouldn’t give it too him. 

Car conversations may not work with all kids, but for some it is the best place to connect with your teen. You may have to outlaw earbuds to make it happen. 

Write it down
Some children are writers. Another friend used a journal to keep in touch with her daughter during high school. They actually started this practice when she was 8 years old with a book that looked like a fancy purse with jewels on it. 

Mom would write something in the journal telling her daughter what was on her mind or sharing an experience from her high school years and how she felt about it. “This is what happened to me. I wonder if it is happening to you,” Mom wrote. “Did you ever feel this way? Did this ever happen to you?” She also wrote compliments and words of encouragement. 

Then she would place the journal in her daughter’s room. If and when the daughter wrote a response she put the book in her mother’s room. 

This busy mother who also had two sons, would write to her daughter at night after the kids were in bed. Her daughter would respond after she had time to think about what ever her mom wrote. 

“I always tried to be positive and uplifting,” my friend told me. “Instead of ‘you did that wrong,’ I would write ‘I was hurt when you did this.’” 

Usually they would use the journal to talk about things she wouldn’t talk about at the dinner table in front of her brothers. When the daughter went away to college the conversation continued through email. They kept their relationship close throughout the teen years. 

Find the key
Every child is different and has a different way of communicating or connecting. Find your child’s preferred method. You may have to experiment. What works for you and your child?

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