Tuning in to your teenagers

Sir John Kirwan
Tuning in to your teenagers

Westpac ambassador Sir John Kirwan says summer holidays are a time to chill, recharge and reconnect, including with those temperamental teens.

It’s not always easy to talk to teenagers, but when you’re on holiday and have traded in the work clothes for T-shirt and jandals and they have hopefully put the phone down and tuned out of Facebook or Instagram for a few moments, it can be a bit easier to check in with them.

How you approach those personal conversations is important because whether they’re 12, 14, 16 or 18 years old or older, they generally think they are older than they are, a sense of independence is emerging and parents, however well meaning, are just plain out of touch. It can be tricky.

SEE ALSO: Let's speak up to stop the silent killer - Sir John Kirwan says we need to start talking about suicide

And while many kids enjoy summer and their friends and family, some don’t. It can be a time when insecurities surface, small things can become big things, and the chatter in their minds can run amok.

So, how do you start the conversation to reconnect and see how they are feeling? There are many ways, but here’s some you might find useful:


It’s up to them, not you

I think the most important thing is to be ready to listen when they’re ready to talk. When you’ve been at work all day, you can’t bowl in the door and start asking questions. Holidays are a little more laidback. Open a dialogue and see what happens.


We don’t know the world they live in

I’m 30 years older than my children, and the world has changed a lot in that time. Bullying in my day was a smack in the head, then you had your head shoved down the toilet and the toilet was flushed.

Now it’s multimedia and as complicated as every other aspect of our lives.


Don’t be a reloader

A reloader is a parent who uses their own experiences as a kid, and their own parents’ solutions, to try to provide all the answers to a kid’s problems. That’s a big mistake.

You might be reloading for the right reasons, but your kids will just see it as a lecture. It’s better to listen, and find the solutions together, rather than coming up with your own theories all the time.


Ask open-ended questions

Before you launch into your questions, make sure you’re not asking a simple yes/no question. That’s an easy way for your teenager to shut down a conversation.


Choose your setting wisely

Having dinner together regularly gives you a way to have those conversations. While driving in the car is another good place to ask open-ended questions, because your teenager doesn’t have to look at you when they talk.


Share your vulnerabilities

I talk about my experiences and when I’m vulnerable it helps other people talk about their vulnerability. If your kids are worried about starting a new year at school, for example, talk about how you were anxious starting a new job, or with a new boss.

Help them understanding many people share those feelings of stress and anxiety facing similar situations.


Look out for the warning signs

Depression is an illness, not a weakness. It can happen at any time, including during a summer holiday.

Not all stress and anxiety is normal. Look out for warning signs in your teenager. These can include:

  • No longer getting enjoyment out of the activities they used to love.
  • Genuinely not wanting to get out of bed or go somewhere – beyond the usual level.
  • Isolation or changing to a whole new group of friends.
  • Not wanting to try new things.
  • A negative frame of mind that is affecting their whole life.


Keep trying

I’ve found that if you open the dialogue, they’ll be the teacher and you’ll be the student.

I don’t profess to be a great dad, but I’m trying hard, and not taking those relationships for granted. I don’t want to leave it to chance.  

SEE ALSO: Let's speak up to stop the silent killer - Sir John Kirwan says we need to start talking about suicide


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