My son Blake and I had a good talk the other day. He’s a High School Sophomore and he has been slipping a bit in school lately. He needed a kick in the butt and I was definitely in the mood to give it to him. We actually had a pretty good discussion that ended with him promising to try harder and me offering some suggestions on helping him track his homework a little better. But it reminded me of how difficult it can be to get teenagers to actually open up and tell you what the heck is going on in their minds.
It can be really hard to get teens to talk to you. They are at an age where parents are just the uncoolest people in the world. I’m sure we all remember our own teen years. But it’s pretty easy actually.
You can make a date with them and take them out to dinner – just the two of you. Picture it, a special date with a daughter and her Daddy, all dressed up nice and in a nice restaurant. Or with a son and his mother out for a night at your favorite steakhouse? Or just a burger date, if you’re on a budget.
Even if you aren’t getting along all that well, it gives you a nice neutral ground to just spend some time together and just talk. I guarantee you’ll learn all sorts of stuff and it gives them something every kid needs – it makes them feel important. For you to actually set aside a whole evening and spend it with just them, that’s kind of a big deal. I wish my parents had done this when I was a kid. I think it would have made a big impression on me.
I do this from time to time with my boys, and they really enjoy it. Life is SO busy any more, I’m lucky to see them for fifteen minutes a day so it really reinforces our relationship if we take a little time to just hang out together.
Couple of ground rules you’ll want to establish before you go:
- Make it a priority. Pick a night and stick to it. If you change it even once, it will take the “special” out of it.
- Yes, they will think it is “totally weird”. That’s OK. They will still be curious enough to show up.
- No cell phones – really! Seriously, both of you can live without your cell phones for a couple of hours. Otherwise, they will almost certainly be wanting to text their friends or check Facebook and you’ll likely get calls too. Nothing kills the mood like endless interruptions.
- No griping about anything. This is a biggie. Even if you find out that your kid is interested in something you don’t necessarily agree with or approve of, you’ll spoil the mood if you start griping at them about stuff and then they’ll clam right up. And make it clear to them this is not a time to air all their grievances. If something touchy comes up, just remind them of your agreement and change the subject to something pleasant.
- Pick the right place. You don’t want someplace noisy like a sports bar with TV’s or other distractions. Naturally, you want to pick some place with food you’re both going to like, but pick someplace where you can actually hear each other.
- It has to be just the two of you – one kid, one parent. If both parents go, they might feel ganged up on. And no brothers, sisters, buddies, girlfriends, etc. No distractions, right?
- Share a little bit about your life, but don’t dominate the conversation. Kids are interested to hear about things we did when we were their age, especially times when we were less than perfect. Oddly enough, it makes us more human to them. But you want to give them plenty of time to talk also.
You may come out of this with a completely different perspective about your son or daughter. And they may start to view you a little differently too. If nothing else, they will realize that you cared enough to make an effort to connect with them.
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