Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How do you get your teenager to talk to you?

How do you get your teenager to talk to you? Apart from building a relationship that encourages talking and listening, I found going for a drive helped.

You can’t get out of a moving car. You have to stay there until the car stops.

Of course getting my daughter into the car when she was angry about something was impossible, so I waited, usually until we had to go somewhere. Often it was on our way to horse riding or synchronised swimming lessons. Both of those activities were about an hour’s drive from home. After the first few minutes of making sure we had everything we needed before we got too far from home to turn back, the drive became silent. Sometimes she was the one to break the silence, sometimes I was, but the silence was necessary. It gave us time to draw breath, to settle into quiet time together.

Then my daughter started chatting. Her conversation wasn’t ordered or logical, it jumped from one seemingly unrelated topic to another. It was sometimes difficult to follow exactly what she was talking about or why it was important for her to mention it. It all seemed innocuous.

Until the last ten minutes or so of the drive. That’s when the real topic came to light. Something serious and important that she was grappling with at the time. Something she hadn’t been able to sort out for herself. I used to get frustrated because we’d just get into the meat of the topic, the real problem, and we’d reach our destination. I think my daughter planned it that way. She never wanted me to tell her what she should do. She wanted to make her own decisions in life. My role was to listen and support and provide ideas she could consider while making her decision. If we never finished the conversation, I wouldn’t have time to give the ‘dreaded’ advice.

She’s 25 now and we still go for drives. Not so many any more, not so often, but a few times a year we arrange to go somewhere together that takes a while and we chat. We’ve also learned to condense our conversations into the time it takes to drive between our houses, although there’s often a half hour or more sitting in the car at the footpath when we stop because we haven't finished talking yet.

Our relationship has evolved – now she gives me advice on how to live my life.

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