Here are some ideas I learned as a middle school teacher over the years.
Don’t just ask how their day was. Ask something specific. If you get the general answer of okay or one word answers try some questions like these: Any good songs they’ve been listening to? Did their favorite YouTuber post anything interesting on lately? How do you feel you did on your quiz in social studies? How’s your friend Jen feeling? You might have better luck getting more information out of them. Plus if they are interested in something (even if it’s not up your alley) ask questions or comments that encourage them to share more. ‘That sounds interesting,’ ‘I’d like to see that/listen to that sometime,’ or ‘Maybe you can show me when we get home.’ I find middle schoolers love to talk. If they know I’ll listen attentively, take interest, and appreciate what they’re saying, they’ll share. However, every kid is different and if these suggestions still yield one word responses, don’t lose heart, there are plenty of ways to bond with your teen that don’t involve talking.
Don’t assume they’re doing something wrong. If it looked like they weren’t doing what they were supposed to I’d say things like ‘Get back to work, Jane’ or ‘You need to be doing what I asked not…’ and inevitably this would lead to an argument or defensive comment from the student. I learned these kinds of questions and comments damage relationships because it shows you don’t trust them. Now before I assume they’re doing something wrong, I monitor and observe more. I ask neutral questions: ‘What’s that for… ‘ ‘Is that for x class’ If I know they got off task I use humor: ‘Got a little distracted?’ They smile and refocus.
Read books together. This helps teens see your opinion about issues they think about but wouldn’t necessarily ask you or come up in conversation. It provides a neutral environment to talk about teen issues together while creating memories too.
Do Special Activities Together. Okay, so they’re probably not going to want to go to the mall or the movies with you, but they’ll certainly appreciate a trip to a concert, sporting game, or special day trip. Maybe you trail in the back, meet up later, or explore together. Either way, you get to share in the experience with them, provide the opportunity for them, and hear all about it! Got a gamer in your family? Take them to a ComicCon convention. A sports addict? Check out a local or regional game in a sport they like, or splurge and get tickets to a national team. Book lover? How about going to a local author signing? A favorite band? Take them to a concert. Maybe you can create an annual tradition just the two of you? You always go… You always make … You always try a new …
Every teen has their own interests but there are some universal truths. Teens are sponges, taking in stimuli from the world around them, and use it to create their own identity. Figure out what they like to soak up and use that as a way to connect with them. They like to fit in, but still be unique. They want independence and space, but still know you care. They want your trust and to know you are interested in who they are becoming.
May you grow closer to the teen in your life and be enriched by each other.