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6 super easy ways to communicate with your teenager

Written by: Jo Lamble, Psychologist

We hear it all the time: “Keep the lines of communication open between you and your children and you will keep them safe”. But how exactly do you do that? How do you talk so your kids will listen?

Some adolescents don’t shut down the minute they turn 13, but many do. And because adolescence is the period when kids take the most risks, it’s the time when we can’t afford to close the window of communication. We’re all aware that there are risks to our teenagers’ safety online, but did you know that gambling can be one of them? There are ever increasing gambling opportunities and ads that they may be exposed to. Our job as parents is to be aware of the risks and know how to talk to our children to keep them safe.

So here are my top tips for open communication:

1. Make use of stories

Teenagers can smell a lecture a mile off. Our job is to sound as unplanned as possible – as if a thought has just crept into our heads and we are dying to share it with them. Telling stories about other people can be a useful way to get a point across, especially if it’s done with empathy. For example, you could say: A colleague at work was telling me that their 15-year-old son ran up an enormous bill because they didn’t realise that the in-app purchases they were making while playing online poker was costing a fortune. It’s so easy to do apparently. Have you heard about that amongst your friends? They will like the fact that you are not sounding judgmental and they will probably share their thoughts on the situation.

2. Learn how to listen so your kids will talk

If children know that they are heard when they do speak up, they will find it much easier to listen. Too often we can pounce on the tone an adolescent uses instead of listening for the point they’re trying to make. Try to ignore the tone and hear the message. Resist the urge to solve their issue. If they are talking about a problem with a friend or a teacher or you, it’s essential that you hear them out and not leap in with a strategy. Show them heaps of empathy, even if you disagree with what they’re saying. You know your child. You know what pushes their buttons. Show them that you know them with empathy.

3. Choose the right time

There’s no point in asking kids to listen if they’re in the middle of something else. It may look like they’re staring idly at a screen, but to them, that’s being in the middle of something. Most teens don’t like the intensity of a “meeting.” Better to grab opportunities as they arise – driving them to footy practice, sitting beside them on the couch and an advertisement comes on, putting something away in their room. It can be easier for them to listen if there’s no direct eye contact – it feels more casual to them.

4. Use some humour

You might think that if you lighten things up, you will lose the importance of your message. But if the conversation becomes too intense, they can switch off. The same rule applies if they make a joke. Don’t remind them that you’re trying to talk about something serious. Laugh at their joke and then steer it back onto your point as casually as you can.

5. Tailor your message to their interests

If you’re trying to warn them about the danger of their cyber footprint, there’s no point in warning them that a future employer is going to see what they’ve done online if having a career is the furthest thing from their mind. Better to suggest to your young soccer player that the Socceroos wouldn’t want to see anything inappropriate online down the track. Similarly, you can warn a lover of drama that his or her acting dream may be affected by the decisions they make today.

6. Leave them wanting more

You might feel like you’re on a roll and feel the strong urge to give some more examples and ram home the message. It’s better to have lots of shorter conversations that they hear than lose them during a marathon.

Communication with your teenager may be difficult at times, but it is important to raise key issues like gambling with them to ensure they are well informed and have some tools at their disposal when faced with difficult situations.

This article was originally published on The Carousel.

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