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Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

11/15/2012 03:49 pm ET | Updated Jan 15, 2013

So many of my friends with teenagers complain about the one-word answers they get when they attempt to communicate. They find it incredibly difficult to cultivate meaningful conversations with the very people who live under their roofs. I've heard hundreds of parent/teen conversations that sound something like this:

"Hey Honey, How was school?"
"Fine."
"Did you have a chance to do your homework?"
"Yea."
"What did you think about the movie you went to last night?"
"Good."

And those of us with teenagers understand how complex it is to crack open a conversation with our teens. It seems like just yesterday they were running through the house longing for our attention, and then one day they woke up and turned into the one-word Zombie clan. I know several parents who ask themselves, "Why should I even try?"

Not long ago, I learned a valuable lesson about talking with my kids. I have to approach their world where they are.

So often, I counsel frustrated parents who feel "Well, he should do this," or "she should do that." We all quickly forget that NOBODY wants to have someone tell them what to do. Why should our teenagers feel any different?

A long-time mentor friend of mine said once, "if you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are."

So... I started to work this out in real time.

When my youngest son was growing through elementary school, I noticed he had a gift for engineering. He loved building things. Blocks, Forts and especially LEGOS were his passion. He loved doing math, following instructions and watching his creation emerge from the box of 1,000 pieces.

Can you imagine?

What do you do when you have a 5-year-old who can sit for hours on the kitchen floor putting together the Death Star Lego set with 5,000 pieces? If you have a kid like this, let me be an encourager for a minute and say you have a kid with a gift.

I remember hearing my mentor's words echo in the stillness of my own desire to connect with my son: "If you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are."

Now, for a little background, I graduated with a degree in Theater Performance. I'm an artist. One thing you must know about artists -- we don't do Legos! Our brain functions differently. Sitting down to count the number of nipples on a block to make sure it fits in another is the farthest thing from what I think is a good time. But for the sake of my son, I started sitting amongst his piles of Legos with him.

For years, I forced myself to sit and learn to be interested in what he was interested in, and guess what? Today we have an incredible friendship. All those hours I spent meeting my son where he was and trying to be interested in the things he found valuable are paying off now. Sure, we have our fights. I have to correct, mentor and parent him. But for the most part, we're good friends. He knows I love him and value his opinion. I know better how his mind functions and what makes him tick. He knows I'm in his corner and am his biggest cheerleader and I know he respects what I think. This is the bottom line of what it means to develop meaningful connections in families, with friends and certainly with people we work with.

If you're having trouble connecting with your teen today, step back, take a deep breath, begin to notice the things they find valuable and start to engage.

You're never going to understand the heart of your student by just letting them "figure life out." After all, we're parents, right? It's our job, our duty and our incredible responsibility to teach, to train and to mentor our teens so they can go on to have long-term healthy relationships. If you can model for your teen what it means to connect, they will take this lesson with them wherever life unfolds.

Be encouraged today.

There are answers to helping parents connect with their kids, even when it seems like you don't.