My son has never been much of a talker — not about his feelings and not about what happened during school. I can ask as many creatively open-ended questions as I want, but it doesn’t matter; he always finds a way to answer with the least number of syllables possible. And his lack of communication has only been exacerbated since he’s become a teenager.
He’ll talk endlessly about science topics or whatever book he’s reading, but if I want to find out what’s going on with him socially, or if something happened at school that I need to know about, I often end up asking his friends’ parents (whom I fortunately happen to be friends with).
Now, my son will sometimes open up if something is really bothering him, and I’m grateful for that. But one of my biggest fears as his mother is that one day soon he’ll pull away and close himself off to the point that I have almost no idea what’s going on with him. Maybe he’ll have a problem he feels is too big to bring to me. Maybe he’ll worry I’ll get mad if he tells the truth.
Then the other day I came across this Tweet:
My dad once wrote a note to us and put it in a drawer. The note said “If you’re scared to tell me something, just bring me this note as a reminder that I’m here to support you. I won’t get mad; I will work with you on a solution.” Best way to keep your kids talking to you.
It gave me the push I needed to up my game when it comes to communicating with my teen. Not that I wasn’t trying — I just wasn’t being proactive enough. For sullen, silent, and often snarky tweens and teens, it isn’t enough to simply ask about their day. We have to be a little… well, a little “creative.” Maybe even a little sneaky. And not only that, but every kid is so different that one technique that works great with one kid will totally flop with another kid.
With that in mind, I turned to social media to find out parents’ favorite “sneaky” methods for getting their tweens and teens to open up. And boy, did they deliver.
1. Write in a shared journal.
Misty, of Corpus Christi, TX, started a “Mommy and Me” journal with her daughter. “At first it was just silly stuff like you’re the peanut butter to my jelly, but eventually she began to talk to me about some important things that were bothering her. It’s on her nightstand and when either of us writes in it we just discreetly place it on the other’s nightstand.”
2. Ask your tween for advice.
Remember when you thought your parents were sort of out of touch and uninformed (or just plain dumb)? Spin this around on your tween and ask them for advice whenever you can. They’ll love to be a trusted source and exercise their problem-solving skills. And this opens the door to respectful two-way communication. After all, we’re trying to raise adults here, right? So let’s give our tween a chance to practice adulting.
3. Play dumb.
Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune says her trick for getting her older kids talking is to pretend she doesn’t know anything.
4. Take time to actually learn about what they’re interested in.
Video games — blech. YouTubers who enthusiastically narrate their video game playing — double blech. But this is what my son is into, so dammit, I will set aside a few minutes to absorb some info about this crap, er, I mean, these topics. Because really, why should he care what I have to say if I don’t care about any of his interests?
5. Learn to speak “Meme.”
“[My kid] is Gen Z, so they speak fluent memes. We’ve had entire conversations this way. There really is a meme for everything.” — Shannon, Forks, Washington
6. Keep talking even when it’s embarrassing.
“I kept communication open with them even when they thought it was embarrassing. I spoke to them about everything. Not in a formal way, just the everyday casual talk that can include sex, money and finances, cooking, driving, society and expectations. Literally everything. No taboo subject.” — Tracy, Granville, IL
7. And maybe throw out eye contact.
“Whenever an embarrassing and/or private topic arose, we would sit on the couch back to back. It helped him open up a little more when he wasn’t looking directly at me.” — Tricia, Houston, TX
8. Give them an out.
“I always told my kids, you can call me anytime and say ‘Mom, don’t ask any questions but I need you to pick me up.’ Or text an X to me and I will know to call you and give you an excuse to leave a situation.” — Stacy, Winter Park, FL
9. When all else fails, throw yourself under the bus.
“When my teen was a tween we agreed on a ‘code’ he could text. If I received said code I would locate his phone, show up and ‘flip out,’ make him leave wherever and we’d stop and get Slurpees on the way home.” — Kristina, Kansas City, MO
I’ve already started with some of these techniques, like asking my son for advice, and he surprised me with how receptive he was to it. And the other day we got into a fairly lengthy text conversation consisting of only memes and emojis. Baby steps, right? Next step: busting out a shared journal. Here’s wishing us all the best with maintaining communication through these often prickly teenage years.