How to Talk to Teens
Have you ever tried to talk to an apathetic teen? I have. It is sometimes quite maddening. Once they are feeling down they will put up all kinds of barriers. They seem to dare you to try to make them feel good.
One of their favorite words is, “Whatever.” It means, “Whatever you say or do doesn’t get through to me. You can talk all you want, but you can’t breakthrough to me.”
It makes you feel like those old Charlie Brown TV shows. You could see the teacher talking in the background, but all Charlie Brown could hear was, “Mwah, mwah, mwah.” When they are in that ‘whatever’ mode they seem to be deaf to encouragement.
But having taught teens for decades I have my own rules for ‘whatever’. My rules go like this.
Whatever you do, don’t stop talking to them. They may appear deaf, but they are not. The world has turned them upside down temporarily, and they are reaching for help. When they appear the most deaf, the most uninterested in what you have to say, is exactly the moment they need you the most.
They can’t let you know your words are helping. It’s some kind of teen honor code or something. But don’t be fooled; they need your words. Much later they may be able to tell you how much your words meant to them. Or maybe not. But I’ve worked with teens for decades and I am telling you whatever you do, don’t stop talking. Here is exactly what to say.
“I’ve been thinking about you.” Tell them specifically when you were thinking about them. When you were in the car? While you were grocery shopping? During a meeting? Tell them the details about when you were thinking about them. They need to know that you think about them when you are not with them. They want to know they matter to you. It’s true for their parents. It’s true for their teachers.
Then say, “It seems like something is on your mind.” or “It seems like something is going on in your life.” “I’ve been noticing you’ve been extra quiet. I want you to know that I am always here for you. You can always talk to me about anything. But if you don’t want to talk about it yet, I respect your privacy. Just know that I’m here for you.”
Caution. If they have shared something with you in the past and you have gone cuckoo about it, they won’t share again. It is always best to under react to keep the lines of communications open. Teens have told me things that would curl the toes of the devil himself, but no matter how I’m feeling inside I always under react to an initial revelation. Later when the situation has improved or changed I might let them know how worried or bothered I was for them. But I NEVER allow my initial shock to show, so they will feel comfortable approaching me in the future.
Dauna Easley’s Whatevers
Here are my own ‘whatever’ messages I want teens to learn from me.
Whatever life hands you, you can handle it. Life is a roller coaster filled with ups and downs but you are equipped to hang on and triumph.
Whatever happens, you are creative enough to respond to it. If you lose a job, you can find or create a new profession with your talents.
If a new opportunity presents itself, you can do it.
Whatever challenges come your way you have the perseverance to overcome them.
You are strong. You are talented. You are capable. I believe in you. You can handle WHATEVER comes across your path.
I’ve been thinking about you; and I know you can succeed whatever comes your way.