The Rewards of Teen Talk

Even though the teen years offer some interesting (mind-numbing) opportunities (challenges), one of my very favorite things that accompanies budding young adulthood is the rich conversation that doesn’t always, but sure can flow.

I actually enjoy the fresh opinions and raw points of view that come with teen-talk, even though they sometimes feel more like an assault than a relationship builder. And, I appreciate how teens say what they’re thinking. I’m glad they push the envelope and don’t blindly ascribe to cultural norms (understatement)—at least norms are according to parents.  And I’m glad they defend by clarifying (“That’s not what you said. I heard you say _____”) our conversations. Because, what they hear is so often not what I said—or meant to communicate.

Sometimes I can forget that communication is a two-way street, consisting not only of what is said, but also of what is heard. And with teens, quick-checks along the way to understand the heard part is important. I like that. It’s good for me to slow down. As adults, we’re quick to move on, to assume without clarification. Clarification can be awkward, appear confrontational … but, not with teens. They’re happy to clarify.

When conversing with a teen, one must often cross rivers of emotion and wade through a streams self-obsession to get to the real thoughts. So, there’s little lazy-talk with a teen. If a real conversation occurs—more than acknowledging grunts or placating affirmations—it goes deep quick.

But to get to the good stuff, we must endure—a lot of eye-rolls, sighs, finesnothing’s, and loads of silence. And, enduring takes time. Which just might be the key. Time. Lots of it. Because, you never know when a teen might feel like talking. But taking time, being patient, wading through miscommunication and enduring are all worth it to get to a genuine conversation. It’s like mining for gold. We must pan through mounds of dirt in order to catch sight of the nuggets when they suddenly appear.

Time is key, but so is presence. Not just physically, but mentally. Because no one, let alone a teen, is going to share anything beyond pleasantries with a stranger.

Yesterday, Jon and I experienced some flecks of gold. And interestingly enough, it was at a restaurant. Because apparently the magic of eating meals with kids can happen even if it’s not at your own dining room table. What a relief! I might have entertained slight feelings of guilt over family dinner plans that often steer off-course and don’t resemble Norman Rockwell these days.

“I’m glad we eat together,” my teen said.

We huh? Does this count?!

“I’ve heard from other kids that they don’t eat with their families more than twice a week. But we do all the time. And I like that.”

Good to know. How nice that method doesn’t trump action.

And that’s when it happened. She asked a question. Then voiced concern. And rather than rush through an answer, we—for some crazy reason—took time to respond, explore, listen, and ask more questions. I learned so much. And I watched, for a brief moment, my teen dip her toes into adulthood. It was a brief tip, but genuine. And it was challenging (because it’s hard to chat with your child without trying to parent) and wonderful.

We talked about deep topics. And thanks to Jon & I both participating, she got a man’s point of view as well as a woman’s. It was impromptu and deep and good because she needed direction and clarity to navigate a few social issues that had been misunderstood. And in the process, she realized that one of the things her dad has told her over the years, one of the things that has been a burr under her saddle and taken as a personal-slight (“Go upstairs and change your shorts. Those can’t be seen below that t-shirt.”) began to be understood as it has always been intended: I love you. I don’t want a boy looking at you and thinking things. You are a treasure to me.

I don’t know if we always get to see the light-bulb go off, so I thought I’d share … as an encouragement to keep on keepin’ on.  Because one more thing about teens and conversation, they’re listening, even when it doesn’t seem like they are. And they’re hearing.

We all learned something yesterday.

  • Communication is a 2-way street
  • What is said is as important as what is heard
  • A few checks might open the door to even deeper conversation

Quick-checks open the door because they show that we are listening, too. The checks are a blessing to our kids. Plus, they ignite our own appreciation/acceptance that young adulthood is arriving. And in the process those budding young adults may begin to recognize that we parents just might know what we’re talking about. Maybe not all of the time … but most 🙂

What are you learning from your teen?

Thanks for walking the road with me.