Talking to Teenagers | Parent Wellbeing Blog

How to talk to teenagers (and when not to)

Contemplating my ‘writing task’ over last weekend, I immediately questioned my authority to do it justice. Goodness. Who made me the expert? Yes I have two of them and have taught a fair few of them during my teaching career, but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a specialist in the subject area. What had I let myself in for?

Looking for reassurance, I approached the youngest with my concerns. “Mum, a blog is just a place where someone can share their opinions,” he encouraged. Quite right, I thought. “You can just express your thinking on the topic,” quipped the eldest. Absolutely, I nodded. I considered what had just happened; in the space of 30 seconds two teenagers had calmed down an anxious mum and offered her solid reassurances. I then thought about other ‘advice moments’ I had shared with my teens on various occasions recently: work life balance, weight loss, exercise, book choices…It was a pretty extensive list.

Thought One: teenagers are great ‘agony aunts’ and why wouldn’t they be? They are part of the ‘compassionate’ generation, who are well-versed in empathy and offering advice to their peers (and parents) when called on.

So when do they want to talk? (as opposed to when don’t they?) The main findings of my primary research are outlined below:

After food (not when they’re ‘Hangry!)
After exercise (although they might be tired, but then again they might feel energised…)
When they receive a good test/exam result (although you must wait to be told; do not, under any circumstances, initiate a conversation about it.)
After 7:30am and before 9:00pm (after 9:00pm – mind your own business…)

And most importantly…

When they’ve got something to say (and this is never going to be in the car on the way home from school…)

It was a useful exercise. I mean, it does rather narrow the window of opportunity a little, but it’s definitely better to be clear on the protocol rather than floundering around in the metaphorical darkness, trying to start conversations and being met with ‘the look’.

Thought Two: On reflection, I don’t note anything particularly unusual with the above ‘talking times.’ In fact they sound like suitable times to talk to most of the adults I know.

‘When I’ve got something to say’ started me thinking. Ask the Year 8s their opinion on the effect of the metaphor in Duffy’s poem ‘Yellow’ and it’s never an overwhelming response. Last week, I threw in a last minute ‘what’s your viewpoint?’ on the statement, “Donald Trump has Covid 19.” It was met with unparalleled enthusiasm for a Wednesday Period 8. The pupils scribbled away eagerly for a couple of minutes before sitting up with fervour to share their thoughts. What resulted was the revelation of 20 animatedly presented ‘views’ on the statement, ranging from, ‘I’m glad; he deserves it,’ to ‘I’m sorry he’s got it, but it doesn’t personally bother me too much,” and everything in between. A valuable teaching moment on individuals and the joy of different viewpoints, as well as an enlightening insight into the mind of a teen and what it is exactly they do want to talk about.

Thought Three: Ask teenagers their opinion on something that is relevant to their lives. Yes, we might still need them to have an opinion about Duffy and her plethora of metaphors but we should encourage them to share their opinions on what they feel informed about. Trump is all over the social media that they interact with; they know about him.

And now to the enigma of ‘social media.’ Do parents and teachers really have any idea of the number of social media platforms that teenagers are connected to? I defy any adult who thinks they can put a vaguely accurate number to it. Tik Tok, Instagram, Snapchat, The Grint – it’s a complicated world that we think we know about, but do we really? Remember the hours we used to spend in the hallway sitting on the phone to our friends or waiting in line in the queue at the cinema chatting to our peers? These were our social interactions. Did we go home and give our parents a blow by blow account of everything we discussed. No we didn’t. It was private.

Thought four: Just like generations before them, teenagers need something for themselves that parents don’t get involved in. Parents might think they want to know everything, but trust me there’s a lot of value in the phrase, ‘too much information.’

As a final musing I would like to leave you with Marshmello and Halsey (any teenager you know will have an opinion on these two). Their recent 2020 hit entitled “Be Kind”, epitomises how we should talk to our young adults of the near future. Show them empathy; show them respect and above all else show them kindness.

Sarah Patten | Head of Prep English

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