Now, I have to be honest here. If this one article could actually provide you the silver bullet to talking with your teenage son, I would be able to retire. The truth is, this can be one of life’s greatest challenges. That said, it can also be one of the sweetest blessings in the world. What I will share here are things that have worked for me and my sons. We have had our fair share of serious trial and error so understand that these are the ones my wife and I have found effective.
Listen to communicate
What I find ironic is that the number one, best way to talk with your teenage son actually has little to do with talking and everything to do with listening. I know, sounds crazy but it is true. We as parents are so quick to give advice, provide counsel and talk but when we listen, we communicate.
I cannot tell you the number of times that I have just sat quietly while my son expresses his feelings about the day. As I listen, I am not only showing true interest in what my son is saying but also thinking about what, if anything, I need to say or questions to ask. In all honesty, most parents would love for their son or teenager for that matter to talk with them. If we are quick to talk rather than listen, we will lose future opportunities.
Find common ground
Having the ability to find common ground with your teenage son is vital to the success of your relationship with him. Often times parents, but especially dads, can get caught up in pushing their sons into the things they like. This could be with sports, drama, music or any aspect of life. The problem is that you are not allowing your son to have the freedom necessary to find his likes, passions and what makes him happy.
It is critical that you find common ground so your teenage son not only sees that you care but feels it as well. Common ground may mean you have to come to the realization that your son will not follow in your footsteps. That is okay and the sooner you realize it, the more you will able to truly communicate with your son.
Be slow to judge and quick to hug
It is a painful and humbling experience to see when you are wrong in your judgment of the actions or intentions of your teenagers. I also have experienced the incredible joy that comes when amends are made and there is that special opportunity for a genuine hug. Don’t allow your teenage son to be “too tough” for a hug. Your arms can be the most comforting and reassuring feeling to a teenager.
Even when your teen may have done wrong and there are consequences, be sure you show restraint and respect. You are showing by example in everything you do and as parents, we don’t get do overs. This may be a challenge for you like it was for me and to be honest, it is still a work in progress at times. However, I know that as I continue to work on myself, my sons will be more willing to listen and talk to me.
Don’t break his trust
If I had a quarter for every way I've heard parents say their son or daughter broke their trust, I could retire. Unfortunately, if I got a quarter for the number of times that parents broke their teenagers trust, I could again retire. See, the reality is, our teenagers do watch what we do. When we don’t do what we say we are going to do, or we do opposite of what we tell our teenager, we are breaking their trust. Ironically, our teenager is not always as quick to point it out to us and we are to him. That said, he'll remember it. Over time, you will lose the respect necessary to have the type of relationship where your son feels comfortable talking with you.
Take advice from a son
I actually asked my oldest son if he could share advice to parents who read this article about talking with their sons. In summary, here were his thoughts:
Find out what your son likes to do and then go do it with him. Be genuinely interested in finding out what they like to do and be open to their likes.
Ask questions but don’t try and get too personal or you may shut them down.
Take the time to listen to your son.
Share your personal experiences that will help teach them about how you learned different lessons in life. Be sure that the experiences make a connection.
As a father, I get quite emotional when I see my sons serve others, perform and get recognized for their accomplishments. However, I am most humbled by their trust, love and genuine respect for my wife and I as their parents. Even though the world we live in is crazy and there will be challenges for us, I know that the foundations we are establishing now will give us greater opportunity for success in the future. I hope that you will try many different things to find the best way to talk and communicate with your teenage son.
Seth Saunders is an executive business consultant and leadership coach. Seth has been married 20 years to his amazing wife, Amber, and is the proud father of three wonderful sons. He is passionate about helping others succeed.