Many parents lament that their child, who used to be talkative, begins to withdraw into themselves when they reach adolescence. But it is still possible to communicate with them, says Cara Natterson, a pediatrician in Los Angeles, United States.
According to her, who is co-author of the book on puberty “This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained”, it is necessary to change the way we communicate with young people.
In the book, Natterson and co-author Vanessa Kroll Bennett say parents’ desire to lecture their teens is strong, especially when they feel stressed or out of their depth.
“Usually they don’t pay attention because it’s just words, words, words being thrown at them,” says Natterson. Instead, take time to listen, she says, turning a monologue into a conversation “and showing kids what it’s like to pay attention to someone else.”
If the teenager asks a difficult or surprising question, such as “What is rape?”, the doctor suggests delving a little deeper. You might try saying, “That’s interesting. What makes you ask that?”
Their answer will likely give you useful context. Often a sudden question arises from something they have heard, read or seen. “Then you can answer the question being asked based on the background information they provide,” she says.
Keep the conversation
Once you’ve broached a fear-inducing topic, like casual relationships, it’s tempting to cross it off the list, says Natterson. Keep coming back to it.
A 14-year-old is different from an 18-year-old, and as children evolve, so do the issues they are dealing with.
“Allow the conversation to become so routine that it’s insignificant,” she says. The best thing about a series of small conversations, according to Natterson, is that there’s room for you to make mistakes and then fix them.
“Children love it when the adults in their lives admit they were wrong. Let them feel superior to you,” she says, because they are fallible.
Share your own stories sparingly
If a teenager is involved in some drama, telling them that one day they’ll laugh about it isn’t helpful, says Natterson — that’s because they don’t have the maturity to look that far into the future. And sharing your own painful episodes only shifts the focus to you.
Teenagers, she said, often just want adults to listen and offer support.