• STAYING CONNECTED TO YOUR TEENAGER: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They’re Really Saying

    By Michael Riera, PhD


    Another book of common sense ideas that are easy to read and difficult to implement when parents are in an agitated state.  That is what is so great about this book – if you read it during the calm before the storm of adolescent decision-making, you may be able to put some of these ideas to good use, thereby strengthening the relationship with your teen during the very time when it tends to unravel the quickest.

    Riera was Dean of Students at MA, and is currently an Assistant Principal at a school in SoCal. He writes in a simple, easy to understand manner, with real life examples from families he has worked with. Each chapter describes everyday opportunities to connect to your teenager.

    Late at Night explains the reason why you may have an easier time connected to your teen and getting him to engage in dialogue in the wee hours of the morning.  This will take some diligence on your part, as it requires you to wake from your adult slumber to set up opportunities for dialogue to free-flow. Trying to engage a teenager when they arrive home from school is strongly discouraged, as they are generally exhausted from their day-long performance for teachers, peers and coaches, and need a break themselves.  Instead, give them some time to relax and regroup while you do the same, then fix them a late night snack and hope that they open up.

    Narcissism 101 basically explains why your teenager has become the center of her own universe and provides a few glimpses of how you can secure a foothold in her strange new land.  Their every experience is seen through new eyes and developing brains.  Your experience is meaningless compared to their fresh perspective and their peers’ point of view. Your teen is learning how to think abstractly, and also wants to use this new thinking to engage in multiple battles with you.  Try not to take the bait every time your teen wants to argue and choose your battles wisely.

    Give Up on Lectures and Advice is a great chapter that explains how to do just that.  It is also really difficult as it is close to impossible to follow this advice when you are an adult with experience and wisdom to share.  Breathe deeply.  This phase shall pass.  Try to keep your missives to short and succinct messages that you hope she will remember in years to come. Even when they ask for advice, they often spurn it outright (but they hear you and have been known to reflect on your words when you are not around to hear their appreciation). 

    Be concise, trust your own judgment, and remember that you are in this for the long haul. Consider giving problems back to your teen instead of answering questions immediately.  Stay comfortable with ambiguity.  Clarify your limits and be consistent.

    Don’t always rescue them; let them fail a little and learn to deal with adversity.  Since they are not interested in learning from your experiences, you will have to let them have some of their own to learn from.  Personal resilience comes from exposure to failure, embarrassment, disappointment, grief, fear and doubt.  Teenagers need to experience all of these things in order to become competent at managing them.

    As difficult as it is, if you won’t let them fail now while they are children, they will have a tough time managing the challenges ahead once they are expected to make their own decisions in college, at work, and beyond. A brief bit of attention is paid to grit and integrity (but I feel that reading Dweck, Duckworth or Lythcott-Haims provides far more insight into all of those issues).

    Indirect Communication has some great strategies to connect with your teen. I am especially partial to the letter or note writing & photo album ideas, as these are things that kids are known to keep close to them for years to come.  Writing letters is a super way to connect, share memories and hopes, and instill concise bits of wisdom.

    Lastly, try to take good care of yourself as a parent and a human being.  Maintain your life, your adult relationships, and your sense of humor.  Before you know it, your teenager will evolve into a young adult, and will hopefully share some of the values you worked so hard to instill.


    Updated by Sheila R Souder on 1/9/2017.