A one-word answer punctuated by a double eye roll. Sound familiar?

A one-word answer punctuated by a double eye roll. Sound familiar?

That one-two punch delivers a knock-out blow every time. For any parent trying to start a conversation with his or her teenager, don't assume this one word has to be the last word. Give yourself a fighting chance.


Talk isn't cheap, it's priceless
You know what "they" say about communication. Begin paving that two-way street when children are young. Meaningful talks with your first-grader are the first step down the path to deeper conversations later.

"If you haven't opened up the dialogue for the last couple of years, don't expect that you're going to walk into the bedroom and close the door and your child will just magically open up," said Columbus psychologist Dr. David Lowenstein. "They're going to feel like you shut them out of your life, so in turn there's a good chance that they may shut you out as well."

A mom I recently talked to insists persistence pays. "Being there consistently, listening, asking questions, just building a relationship is probably the most important thing. When deeper issues arise, the child has the backlog to open up and count on you."


A little down time
(Teenagers' names have been changed to protect their identities ... and their allowances).
The teenagers I talked to all agreed that parents don't have a true appreciation for the amount of pressure that kids are under on a day-to-day basis. Sixteen-year-old Ward said, "I think for parents it's hard to understand how our lives could be hard, but you have to put it in perspective to where we are in life. What we deal with now is on a different scale, but it's still the same amount of stress (as parents')."

"Sometimes I don't like to talk right after school because it's been a long day. I just want to relax," said 17-year-old Christine. The teens said a little down time when they walk in the door after school/practice/job, etc., goes a long way to improve their moods and improves a parent's chances of getting more than a one-word response.

"I don't like it when they immediately start firing questions at me as soon as I walk in the door," said 18-year-old Allison. "At the same time, I wouldn't want my parents to completely ignore me, because that would make me feel like they don't care," said 16-year-old C.J., recognizing he's asking his parents to walk a fine line between showing too much interest and not enough. The teenagers also agreed that a parent's tone of voice plays a huge role in how kids respond.


Pitching in without pitching a fit
The chore of getting kids to do chores can be more labor intensive than the chore itself. Interestingly, all of the teens agreed that children should share responsibility for daily household chores. However, they thought deadlines for chores would be more effective than constant nagging. If kids fail to finish the chore by the deadline, parents have the right to be peeved.


Touchy topics
Chores are one thing, but approaching your kids about sex and drugs is a whole different ball game. Scott Gordon, varsity football coach and dean of students at Thomas Worthington High School, talks to kids all day long. He also is the father of two teenagers. Gordon believes social media like texting and Facebook have created a very savvy young generation. He believes a mature, honest approach is best. "They learn more at an earlier age. Don't be afraid to talk about touchy subjects." Gordon said kids' increased knowledge increases the pressure on them and being able to turn to a parent helps.


Parent vs. friend
"A lot of parents feel like they should be friends with their kids, but friends means that you're at their level," Lowenstein said. "What (teenagers) need is somebody who's going to help them manage all the things they have going on in their life."

Gordon agreed. "It's important to remember that kids are inexperienced humans; they need and want parameters." Gordon suggests that parents be clear in expressing their expectations and consistent with the message. He also thinks positives can come when kids test limits, as long as no safety issues are involved. "They are developing people; they have to learn for themselves and that includes learning from the consequences that grow from poor choices."

The teens all admitted there have been many times that they didn't agree with a parent's decision, but realized later that it was for the best. However, they would like to see a little blurring of that hard line between friend and parent. "I think if a parent lives by the 'I'm your parent and not your friend' rule, then they shouldn't expect you to talk to them about everything," Christine said. C.J. agreed. "You need to build the relationship before (teenagers) can feel comfortable going to (parents) for advice."


When they want it, they'll ask for it
Even in the best parent-teen relationships, it's seldom the child who starts the conversation. Ward said it's not because the teen doesn't want to talk, he or she just doesn't know how to open the conversation. He said it would help if his parents just listened instead of offering advice. C.J. agreed. "It's almost like sometimes (parents) put too much pressure on themselves to give you the right advice."


The last word
If you want the gift of gab with your teenager, it's not important if you have the first word, or last word, it's what's in between that matters. Conversation is a two-way street, as so are many of life's greatest rewards.

A friend who is a mom of teenage twins sums it up nicely. "The more time, love and respect we show our teens, the more we get in return."

As far as the eye roll ... learn to live with it.



Kristen Maetzold is a freelance writer and producer for Living & Learning TV with 18 years' experience as a television news producer. She lives in Worthington with her husband David and three step children, Will (22), Anna (18), and Andrew (16), and is a new-ish mom to Ellie, almost 2