Skip to main content

OMG! Your teen actually talks to you?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 11:32 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
HIDE CAPTION
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
How to get your teens to talk about everything
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Getting teens to open up is one of the biggest challenges, parents say
  • Some moms use humor and spontaneity to deal with topics such as sex
  • One of the biggest mistakes parents make is they do all the talking, said a parenting expert
  • "You can't wait until your kids are teenagers ... to work on the relationship," said one mom

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- They roll their eyes, walk away in a huff, shout "Mom, you don't know what you are talking about" and then slam the bedroom door -- symbolizing the end to any hope of a conversation.

"Teenagers!" parents complain. "Wake me up when they're in college."

As a parent of two girls who will be teens all too soon, I admit I'm more than slightly freaked. But after talking with parents and experts around the country, it appears you can achieve what might seem like the unthinkable -- getting your teen to actually want to talk to you, even about the hard stuff.

Uneeka Jay, a mom of five in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, relies on humor and spontaneity. For instance, when her 15-year-old son Shawn comes to the kitchen for a snack, that might be the exact moment she asks him, "You ever have sex?" out of the blue.

"It's really weird," the high school freshman and basketball star said during a conversation at his family's home, although he admitted he doesn't feel as uncomfortable after the fact.

READ: SOS for stressed out teens

As a former teenage mom who grew up in a household where sex was never discussed, Jay makes sure her children know she is open to talking about sex as well as drugs, alcohol, bullying -- you name it -- and that she tries to keep it "light" whenever she can.

How a mom runs home like the office
The real deal on teens and cars

"We're joking, but then sometimes I've found that conversation becomes serious later where they come back and say, 'Well, hey, this happened or this occurred and I want to talk about it,'" said Jay, a vice president of customer operations for a mobile health services company and the founder of her own company focusing on empowering women and businesses.

'My parents, they've got it going on'

Vicki Hoefle, author of the book "Duct Tape Parenting," said when parents show they aren't afraid to tackle any subject -- and are willing to showcase their own vulnerabilities, teenagers take notice.

"I think a fearlessness, a fierceness to attack all those scary conversations with the kind of zest that you see in teens makes teens look at their parents like, 'Oh my god. My parents, they've got it going on,'" said Hoefle, a mom of five who has spent the past two decades working with families on parenting.

READ: Social media positive for teens? Maybe!

Tracey Koch, a mom of two, ages 10 and 14, and a nurse practitioner who works with teens, said she finds being candid with her patients and her own children about the mistakes we all make leads to more trust.

Victoria's Secret model? Meh
Generation stressed: teens boiling over
Talking to teens about social media

"I find that once you confess to also being imperfect, it levels the playing field and teens may feel it's safe to open up," said Koch of Lewiston, Idaho, in a response to a request for comment on CNN's Facebook page. "I tell my children that this is my first experience at raising children and parenting and I am bound to make mistakes."

The mistakes parents make

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is not being honest with themselves about how strongly they already feel about topics such as teens engaging in sex, driving, and using drugs and alcohol, said Hoefle.

If your teen thinks, "I already know what my mom will say about this, so I'm not even going to talk to her," you can forget about your teen opening up to you, she said.

Delia Perez, a mom of two boys ages 9 and 13, said she sometimes has to hold her breath.

"When we talk, I sometimes have to put on my poker face because the overprotective mother wants to emerge and scream 'What the hell?'" said Perez, also in response to our query on Facebook. "My husband and I always try to put ourselves in their position (and) remember when we were their age."

READ: Helping teens build a healthy body image

Michelle Staruiala, a mom of three in Saskatchewan, Canada, follows the same advice with her three children, ages 13, 15 and 23.

"I don't judge or make them feel stupid when they have tough questions," she said. "We all know growing up isn't always easy."

'Put duct tape over your mouth'

The second grave error parents make, Hoefle said, is we talk too much. We need to, quite simply, shut up, and maybe "put duct tape over" our mouths.

"It's like, Oh my god, do you just have to be so smart all the time? Can't you give your kid a chance to be the smartest one in the room? And there's an attitude about stepping back and allowing your child to be the star in the show. That's what secures you a place in the next conversation."

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace writes, \
CNN's Kelly Wallace writes, "As a parent of two girls who will be teens in a little more than five years, I admit I'm more than slightly freaked."

Kelli Caprine, a mom of four in Santa Clarita, California, said to get teens to want to talk to you, you have to refrain from telling them what to do at every turn.

"That would turn my kids off right away. So I would have to just listen and then say, 'Would you like advice?'"

Hoefle strongly encourages parents to take on the mindset of a scientist and ask a "series of open-ended questions" to encourage their teen to open up.

READ: Steering teen drivers out of harm's way

How and where to have the talk

Equally important, said Hoefle, is understanding how your teens like to communicate -- whether it be while cooking dinner, driving in the car or in a quiet place with zero distractions.

"How to set up the environment that best supports your child is really important," she said.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Stephanie True Fix, a mom of two in South Portland, Maine, said quick car trips tend to be a successful way to get a little bit of information from her children.

"Teenagers may call that a trap, but I call it parental opportunity," said the single mom of two teenagers.

For Carolyn Austin-Haase, a mom of four ages 16 to 26 in Princess Anne, Maryland, the dinner table has been the best place to get her children to unload.

"We have talked about everything under the sun," she said. "Sex, penises, pubic hair, bowel movements, periods, drugs, masturbating, pregnancy, birth control. Our dinner table is not for the faint of heart."

What just about every parent I spoke with and parenting expert Vicki Hoefle stress is that parents need to start early -- well ahead of the teen years.

"You can't wait until your kids are teenagers and quit talking to you to work on the relationship," said Austin-Haase. "It must be done early on."

What do you think is the best way to get teens to open up? Chime in below in comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Sarah McLachlan, the Grammy Award winning singer, was barely out of her teenage years when her first album came out in 1988. Now, she's a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls touring the country to promote her seventh full-length solo album called "Shine On."
Can a building or park make you happier? See 10 ways our shared spaces are being re-invented through fresh design.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain -- not only in an "I'm traumatized!" kind of way, but also in an "I literally have less gray matter in my brain!" kind of way.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park for hours while she worked at a nearby McDonald's has sparked a robust debate online about whether this mother should ever have been arrested and how young is too young to leave a child on his or her own.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
North West, the 1-year-old daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, is already a social media darling due to her mom's active presence on Instagram. Now the child's new look is sparking some controversy online.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
In this celebrity mecca, where the issue usually is "Who's your daddy," actor Jason Patric is engaged in a court fight that raises an even thornier question: What is a daddy?
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
If you weren't part of the "cool club" in middle school, you may have an extra spring in your step after hearing about a new study, which could be titled "Revenge of the Nerds."
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT