Toronto Zoo

Teen Talk

By Dr. Karyn Gordon

I just wrapped a five-week speaking tour last week to thousands of pre-teens, teens and hundreds of parents across Ontario. One of my favourite times during these tours is during the question and answer period right after. I’m often asked by parents, “How can I get my kids to make the right choices, choose the right friends and be a positive influence in their life?” The following tips were some of my suggestions.

Tip #1:     Teach them how to think
One of the best skills we can teach our children is HOW to think. Let’s face it – so much about life is learning how to make wise decisions. So it only makes sense for us to help our children exercise this important skill. The key is how to do it. The more parents tell their children what to do (you should do your school work, you should hang out with this person, you should get a part time job) the more teens will tune out their parents and not learn how to think. Helping our children learn how to think means learning how to ask the right questions. When you ask questions, instead of telling your children what to do, you’re helping to exercise their thinking skills.

Tip #2:     Guide the conversation
Sometimes getting our kids to talk requires us to help guide the conversation. Many times, parents can sense something is wrong with their child even though their child hasn’t said anything. Perhaps they come home, their mood seems down and they hang out in their room and avoid the rest of the family. These are clues they are going through something. So at times it’s appropriate for parents to approach their kids and guide the conversation. Gently share with them that you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour and ask them if they’d like to talk about it. Don’t force your kids to talk but make yourself available and remember to be a safe place for them to land.

Tip #3: Are you really hearing what the person is saying?
I am so convinced that listening is a skill that is absolutely essential not only in parent/child relationships but in all relationships between two people. It’s important to really think about the goal or objective of listening. The goal of listening is to capture the message the other person is saying. The goal of listening is not to provide solutions or give advice or defend our position but simply to understand the other person. After researching this with thousands of teens across the GTA, this was the number one request teens told me they needed more from their parents.

Tip #4:     Let there be silence
Great therapists need to get used to silence. Generally, our culture is uncomfortable with silence. When there’s a lapse in conversation, someone is usually quick to jump in. When we are having heart to heart conversations with our teen, it’s important for us to give our teen permission to have silence. I’ll ask teens at my office what they think or feel about something. Often I hear, “I don’t know.” Then I’ll say to them, “Just take a minute, I think it’s in there somewhere.” We have many thoughts and feelings in our subconscious – it’s at the tip of our tongue but we can’t get to it unless we allow ourselves silence to access it.