5 ways to get your teen talking
The teenage years are hard at the best of times. Hormones, relationships, exams… they all make for big feelings. Throw in a global pandemic, school closures and social restrictions and it’s easy to see why mental health problems are on the rise among children and young people.
We all know it’s good to talk, and as a parent all you want to do is help. But the teenage years can often be a time when communication breaks down among families. It’s common for young people to push boundaries, want to try new things and assert their independence. They’ll be chatting away non-stop to their friends on messaging apps, but you’re lucky if you get more than a one word response (or a grunt!) to your question… So how can you make sure your child knows you are there for them and can come to you if they are struggling?
At Open Door we specialise in supporting children and young people through difficult times. We’ve made it our business to work out the best ways to communicate with young people that make them feel safe to talk about their feelings and worries.
Here are some ideas for how to get your teen talking to you about their mental health:
1. Focus on listening rather than fixing problems
Keeping quiet can be hard to do, but sometimes people just need a chance to talk about their worries and fears without having solutions given to them. To do this you need to give your child space to talk. Don’t tell them you know what’s wrong or you know what they are feeling. Instead, focus on listening, and let them know you want to support them.
2. Ask open questions
You can prompt these kind of conversations by asking open questions, for example asking what sort of a day they’ve had, and then listening with obvious attention - avoid questions that just require a yes/no answer (or grunt!). This kind of approach can really encourage young people to open up and express what they feel, while helping them to think things through and reach their own solutions.
Here are a few other conversation openers:
- How are you feeling?
- Is there anything you’d like to talk about?
- Is there anything you need from me?
- What was the best/worst bit of your day?
3. Get active together
Communication isn’t always just about talking, sometimes it’s just as important to focus on doing things together. Find excuses to spend time together and make it clear you enjoy their company. Going for a walk or a long drive together can be a great opportunity for a relaxed chat about what’s going on in their life. Even doing small tasks together (cooking supper or baking a cake) can create a relaxed space for getting the conversation started. Getting active is also great for everyone’s happiness, health and wellbeing. Why not suggest a kickabout or shared yoga session, or get more adventurous and try something completely new together?
4. Be observant
It's normal for teenagers to be moody at times. But be aware of any changes in your child’s behaviour, for example in their sleeping habits, appetite or energy levels. If they are particularly quiet, or seem to be isolating themselves from family or friends, this could be a sign their mental health is suffering and they could benefit from some extra support. If this happens, let your child know that you're concerned and explain why, for example if you've noticed they haven't been interested in activities they usually enjoy.
5. Talk openly about mental health and support them to seek help
Being honest about your own mental health worries or past experiences can help to reduce the stigma around mental health and make it more likely that a young person will come to you for support. If your child tells you that they are finding things hard, let them know that struggling sometimes is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Tell them that you understand, you love them and will help them to get the support they need.
Access free youth counselling via LionHeart
Through LionHeart’s partnership with Open Door Counselling, UK-based RICS professionals can now access free online counselling for their young people aged 12-18. If you feel your child is struggling with their mental health and would benefit from some non-judgemental support from a trained professional counsellor, please call the LionHeart support team who will be able to talk you through the next steps and refer you.
Ring 0800 009 2960 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Carmel Mullan-Hartley is Chief Executive of Open Door Counselling, recently commissioned by LionHeart to provide a free youth counselling service for the children and young people of RICS professionals aged 12 to 18.
- Read Carmel’s other blog: The pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health (and what we can do about it)
- Find out more about LionHeart youth counselling