Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Car Chats With Teens

Our 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Talking to teenagers can be challenging to say the least. They have long since outgrown the notion that you know much about anything, so they don't always come to you for advice like they used to. When you kindly try to offer your wisdom they often have the audacity to call it "nagging."   They will be gone for the whole evening, but when you ask how it was you hear "ok."  Ask what they did, "nothing." If they seem upset you may feel inclined to ask what is the matter, but be careful because that can sometimes backfire. Whatever the problem was can quickly become your fault. It's a volatile time of life, so even if they were very open the day before they may be guarded today. Communication can become very strained as they push the boundaries and exert their independence and this tension can spill over into ordinary conversation. They may seem far more interested in talking to their friends than to you. Take heart. All of this is fairly normal and won't last forever. So how do you stay connected, instill lessons and express love when their eyes glaze over the minute you begin to speak?

Having dealt with four teenagers of my own so far, I have learned a lesson that seems to work every time. Teenagers open up and talk in the car better than anywhere else. I'm not an expert, but I have my theories as to why this is. Teens are fairly self conscious and defensive generally. So if you say to them, "Hey let's talk" their guard immediately goes up as they wonder what you intend to lecture them about this time. But if you invite them to go to the store with you that is totally non threatening, so they are feeling more open. Talking in the car is also nice because it is less direct. Eye contact is wonderful, but can overwhelm a teen if they have something to tell you that they are embarrassed about. Or if they aren't sure how you will react. Not staring straight at them and having scenery to focus on can provide just enough buffer that they feel braver sometimes. In the car you have them all to yourself for awhile. If you can avoid their natural instinct to blast the music at high volume, it is uninterrupted conversation time.  Let them play the music if they wish. That in itself can loosen them up.  Just play it softly enough to hear each other over the din. Don't tackle issues head on. I have found it works better to chit chat about mundane things until you have rapport built up. Then try to ask questions that do not lend themselves to one word answers. Rather than say, "how was school today?"  try, "What's one good thing and one bad thing that happened at school today?"    Then pause long enough to really hear their answer before charging on to make your point.

Another great teen car the driver whenever you can to groups of your teenagers friends. Then just be quiet and listen carefully.   They actually often forget you are there and you will be amazed how much you will learn as they talk to each other. Never use this information against them later or they will think of you as spying on them. Just tuck it away as information about your son or daughter that can help you know them better.

Teenagers get a bad rap I think as surly rude creatures. They can be at times, but they are also quite delightful. It is an age of great confusion and anxiety and change for them. Sometimes they don't talk much just because they really don't know what to do or say. Or they are pondering deep thoughts about life. Seriously. Often I learn more from them than the other way around. And sometimes hanging out with them in silence is ok too. But you will be surprised if you consistently invite them along on errands or find other opportunities to be alone in the car how often they will open up and start talking. Having a hard time getting them to join about offering to let them drive? Yes it's terrifying (but that is another post for another day)

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