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Monday, February 18, 2013

Teen Talk: How to Communicate in a Texting World

By Kim Seidel

As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to talk to teens, social media technology – cell phones with texting, e-mail, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and others – have made parent-teen communications even more challenging in the past few years.

Following are some great tips to help you find success talking to your children during their teen years, when it’s normal for them to focus more on their friends and less on their family.

Set limits. Teens texting nearly 24/7 is common, and in some cases, “out of control,” says Fran Swift, parent educator. Parents need to...
...set limits on texting and other social media before the teen’s habits become unmanageable.

While social networking brings some benefits to teens, such as connecting with friends and raising social awareness, parents can set boundaries without cutting their teen off from the rest of the world.

Limits can include no phones after a certain time in the evening (so teens can’t text all night), and no phones during family functions (so teens actually speak with others around them in person.)

Eat dinner together. Even with busy schedules, family dinners provide some of the best times to partake in friendly dialogue, says Cindy Ericksen, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Family dinners help to maintain a sense of support, love and cohesion in a family,” Ericksen says.

Teen years can be scary for the child and parents. Eating together – without technology present - can help build stronger bonds and provide opportunities for communication, Ericksen says.

“Have a conversation, not an interrogation, at the dinner table,” Swift says. Discuss “light” current events, rather than difficult homework assignments. Take news of the day or hobbies as a springboard for conversation.

Role model your tech use. “Reserving dinner as a time that even a parent doesn’t talk or text on the phone is as important as not using the cell phone phones while driving kids in the car, shopping with them, or other activities,” Swift says. “We need to model appropriate behaviors and attentive listening opportunities if we want conversation to happen with our teens.”

Use technology to your advantage to bond with your teen. “Texting or e-mailing him a note might be more meaningful and resonate more at that age than direct conversation,” Swift says.

If you see that he responded kindly to his sister, recognize that good behavior with a friendly text message or e-mail, Swift says.

Know when to talk. Studies show that teens are most alert at night. Your teen usually will be most talkative and open with you after the sun sets.
Avoid talks with your teen in the early mornings, when she already has a million thoughts running through her head, from what to wear to a test coming up.
Another time to keep talks short is when she comes home from school or a social event.  “Don’t appear to be too eager, because teens don’t like that,” Swift says. “Don’t push them by asking them too many questions. Give it some time to let the conversation unfold.”

Use “action talk.” Simultaneously do an activity with your teen and have a conversation. While driving her in the car, doing dishes, cleaning closets, or doing yard work together, you can talk with your teen where she doesn’t feel so “hemmed in,” Swift says.

The point is to engage in a project while conversing, rather than announcing that you’re “going to have a talk,” Swift says. “Parents need to take a more subtle approach.”

Watching movies together can open up interesting topics that are less personal but still relevant. Even when your teen views a television show that you dislike, watch it with her. Ask her what she enjoys about the program.

Do the same with music. Listen to some songs by various groups that your teen adores. Find out what she loves about the music she downloads to her iPod.
Have fun together. During the teen years, parents often forget to simply have fun with their child.

Enjoy these special years together and make an effort to experience fun together. Discover your son’s or daughter’s interests and spend time with them sharing activities, says Ericksen. 

Set aside a day or even a half day for family time, Swift says. No texting allowed during this period. “Making a connection with them is what you’re looking for,” she says.

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