Shawni with her arm around Max at the top of a mountain

Communicating with Teenagers

Something happened a couple months ago that got me thinking. It made me have visions of teenagers and how our relationships will be. It made me ponder deeply on the importance of communication and how to cultivate it.

An Interaction that gave me visions of teenagers

I was at the orthodontist’s office waiting for Max. (How I got the stars to align just right so that I had no other children clinging to my legs or creating all kinds of ruckus around me I do not remember, but that’s not the point of the story.)

The point is that as I sat there, minding my own business, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of a mother and her teenage daughter sitting across from me. The mother was flipping through some magazine she had grabbed from the small table separating me from them. Her daughter sat there at her side, jabbering away about life. Her life. I was drawn to their conversation because that teenager was spilling out details of all sorts of things…like how so-and-so broke up with so-and-so, and what one friend wore when they went to the movies the night before. She blabbed on and on to her mom about everything from how she was feeling about life to what shirt she liked in the magazine her mother was mesmerized by.

What makes communication happen?

In the meantime, I was mesmerized by them. I studied that mom (trying to be incognito) and the wheels in my head started spinning.

What had she done to nurture that relationship with her daughter where she willingly spilled the beans about all that stuff? Was that girl talking because her mother was hardly paying her mind, nonchalantly offering an “uh huh” or a “really?” every so often as she turned her magazine pages…on to the next story about Angelina Jolie or so-and-so’s plastic surgery? I wondered if my kids will talk to me like that when they’re that old. Does that mean it’s ok if I’m not fully gazing into their eyes when they tell me about their day? Should I get a subscription to People magazine? (ha ha)

When I recounted the scene to Dave that night he laughed and said that teenager’s personality is probably one that never turns off…she probably drives her mom nuts with all the things she blabs on about.

But I liked it. And I liked what the whole scene made me ponder about. I’ve always believed having great relationships with your teenagers must start with a seed when they’re young. It’s not like suddenly when they turn all moody and hormone-driven they will suddenly just want to confide in their parents. I want to do all I can to make sure my kids know they can tell me anything.

Do I think that “copious confiding” (when kids tell their moms every detail of their lives) equals successful mothering? Of course not. I think I have the best mother that ever could be and I certainly didn’t tell her much. But I always knew she was there for me if I needed her.

I don’t want to be one of those moms who is more a “friend” than a “mom.” I want to be the Mom. But I also really, really want my kids to know that I’m there for them. No matter what. And that I care.

So, thank you, jabbering-teenager, and mother-not-really-listening…for making me think.

(And I’d love any ideas on nurturing teenager relationships out there…)

I love to write about relationships! Here are some other posts about relationships:

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  1. I agree with your husband. Out of my five kids, 2 blab constantly about ANYTHING… they especially enjoy sharing the lastest episode of Phineas and Ferb (or with my oldest it was Spongebob, which I don't even let my kids watch anymore, thanks to his filling me in on what was going on EVERY show). This absolutely drives me bonkers. I TRY to look interested, but they go on forever and I think to myself, "Tell me something that has value… meat… something about yourself, your day, your thoughts." But I have patiently (half) listened.

    2 of my daughters (both still teens) are as closed-lipped as humanly possible. I have to ask questions, pry and beg for them to share. I have actually been given more information about their day from their friends' mothers before. Neither of them are drama queens, though, and don't make a big deal about issues with friends or what's going on in so-and-so's life.

    And 1 daughter (also currently a teen), is right in the middle. Willing to share about her day, willing to share a little about her friends and kids at school, willing to share what boy she thinks is cute, and willing to even fill me in on her sisters occasionally.

    I really don't think I've done anything different as a parent, I just think it's who they are. What they came with. One of those things that make every child unique. I have discovered, however, that even those closed-lipped girls will open up. Usually when it's very late at night and I'm totally exhausted. On occasion they open up at dinner (the best). But I have learned to stop and LISTEN when they get on a roll. Dishes can wait, homework can wait, even sleep can wait.

    Good luck!

  2. I love this story because it seems close to my own with my teenagers. I am a mom to 5 daughters. 4 of them are foster children of which came into my home at 8, 11, 13, and 13. They are now 11, 13, 14, 15 (we got them all at different times). We are just like your story. I am a major multi tasker and my kids know this…they tell me everything in great detail (Cars are best places for this). They know everything they are telling me that I pay attention too EVEN while reading about Angelina and Brad's last fight. I have been honest with them from the start and they know I am there. I am glad that they trust me. I talk about what I did at their age and what they have to look forward too. They love these stories and laugh when things that happened to me happen to them. I can see the wonderful relationships you already have with your children and that can only carry over into the fun teen years.

  3. I saved all my "kitchen work" for the afternoon. I didn't really plan it. It just happened. But when my girls got home from high school (now 24 and 22) they would sit on the counter and recount their whole day while I emptied the dishwasher and chopped and peeled things for dinner. Lots of laughs in that kitchen. I loved it.

  4. That story could totally be about me and my almost 12 year old daughter! She rarely stops talking, and it is always about random-important-to-an-adolescent type things! The conversations are seldom 'eye to eye' and she hardly ever stops. There are times I feel exhausted from the listening and have even asked her to give me a little silence for just a few minutes. BUT, your post has really changed my thoughts… I am not going to tire of her words/stories any longer, but instead, thank my lucky stars that she wants to and feels comfortable talking with me so much!

  5. So funny what your husband said, and probably true.
    Here's what I think: It IS dependent on the personality of the child for sure. But another thing…I have found that when I just "listen" without butting in, making judgments, (even though it's SO hard sometimes) that the kids are open to tell me more. I know when I've started in with a little lecture about how this friend or that is dating too young, or "that wasn't very nice" or that sort of thing, (even a look on my face) I've had reminders a few time…like "Mom I'm just TELLING you! (insert eyeroll). And I remember the same thing as a teenager…thinking "I'm not going to tell you anything if I see disapproval or judgment in your face". That's the key I think…just like that mom in the ortho office.

  6. I read this story to my now 21 year old, and after, she said "that is us." Yep that was her and I setting in the ortho office 10 years ago, just casually talking. She is 2nd of 6 children but the oldest girl and has always been a moma girls. When you are in the zone with your child you forget others are even around and listening so it can be more reveling. lol

    I don't agree with the last comment about not adding disapproval or judgment. I think that is where the Mother part of things come in and not just being their friend. The Spirit is a great guide in help you to know what and when to say things.

    You will be fine, the teen years are a blast. You have access to the best resource around, your parents.

  7. I do agree with many of the comments my daughter was very tight lipped and would give little information in her early teens however she now gives a little more information as she has got older.

    On the other hand my son tells me so much that some times I have to hide my schock.

    I do agree that you should not try to be their friend but their mum who cares and enjoys listening to their stories. The best time for gossip has always been when they come in from school and dinner time. I do feel that the manner in which you deal with them when they do something wrong will have a great impact on your relationship. They must respect you but not fear your reaction. I must say that although the teenage years have had the normal ups and downs I have really enjoyed this stage in my childrens life.

  8. I think you're on the right track! I also believe that you have to have communication and admiration for each other from the start! Although, what do I know? My oldest is just turning 12. These are just my opinions with no experience! 😉 I soo hope to have that relationship that you saw, as well! I guess in the end it probably does come down to what kind of a person your child is. I think I will have one tight lipped, one open mouth, and one in the middle! 😉 I'll be here for them no matter what. I guess that's all we can do. Nurture them to hope to have that kind of communication, and then be thankful for whatever they feel comfortable with.

  9. Oh man I am so nervous about the same thing. How do you keep them close? I have three little girls. I just said to my husband the other night "how do we keep them this sweet and close to us always?" I am so worried about the world and keeping them from making bad choices. I hope mine will be talkers just like the one you heard. Then we will know whats going on. Love your blog you always have good ideas with raising kids and always make me think. Also-Your parents books sound amazing. I want to get both of the new ones.

  10. my mom swears that making yourself look busy gets teens to open up a little more. she would be in the kitchen cleaning, or have a book or magazine nearby when my brother got in late at night.

    her observation was that if she was "all ears," he felt pressured to talk. but if she casually asked questions while busy with some other task, he didn't feel like she was prying. she said "mmm hmm" or "wow" at the right times, and at times probably when what she wanted to say was "WHAT????" that mom in the lobby might have been listening a lot more intently than she appeared to be!

    now that i'm a mom i've thought a lot about why mom was always the perfect person to talk to about anything. she NEVER made judgements about my friends. at least not verbally and not to me. but if i was struggling with making sense of what they did, i had to ask her what she thought in order to get an opinion. then when she gave it, it was always with compassion. she never told me what to do or think or spoke in absolutes. she gave me a lot of room to make up my own mind about people and situations.

    i talk too much. and i'm way more judgemental about situations and people than my mom. so i have a lot of work to do before my kids become teens…

  11. I found that my teen-age boys were most talkative when I didn't look into their eyes when they were talking and have recently found that research confirms my own experience.

  12. As a middle school teacher, I've noticed that the parents who get the most information are the ones who aren't looking for it. If you allow it (i.e. don't judge, make weird faces, or jump all over your kids when you hear something shocking), they will just pour it all out. They want to be listened to without being instantly judged.

    I want this with my kids too…I've also noticed that there is a huge difference between the species…er…I mean the genders. It just depends on where and when you catch them. That mother not seeming "too interested" was actually just encouraging her to keep talking…and she did.

  13. I want to throw in a teenage girls perspective here! I'm 16, (and somehow found your blog and I absolutely love your photography & your passion for live and mothering- I love reading! So inspiring!) Anywho- there are 3 kids in my family all girls 8, almost 13, 16 and we all share everything with our mom and each other. I never understood how siblings didn't get along because my sisters and I are honestly so close. Don't get me wrong, we still fight about stupid stuff like my 13 year old sister wearing my shirt, but otherwise we're all really open and honest with each other.

    Your post made me wonder why we share all this information with our mom and I think the reason is because she has always opened up to us. From a younger age my mom would always tell us all the "drama" in her life or what her friends were up to and that kind of stuff, and she would treat us like we were her best friends that she was telling this too. And I think as we all got older we would just continue the conversations when she would say something about what her friend said about her new hair cut at the tennis match one of us would chime in about how some girl made fun of my skirt today and the conversation would go from there. I find that all the talking happens in the car without my youngest sister there. My mom picks me up from school then my 13 year old sister and we just talk; about anything and everything. It's always easier to talk in the car because I know my mom has to pay attention to the road she can't give me any funny looks, or if I have something to say that I'm not exactly proud of she can't look me in the eye 🙂 But, hey, I'm still telling her! I also think that my younger sisters open up because I do. I guess it's a chain reaction.

    My mom is defiantly not the mom who acts all cool and lets us kids have wild parties and stuff just. She's actually very strict, but very cool about it at the same time. She's 42, but acts younger and has always treated my sisters and I a little older then we were (once we had our fairy tale childhoods and got into the teenage years). She puts a lot of trust into me, and I see that, so I don't want to disappoint her so when she texts me to ask me where I am there's no doubt I'm going to tell her the truth, because if it's somewhere I would be ashamed of telling her then I know I shouldn't be there.

    Anyway, it's late and your post got me thinking about my mommy! I would probably be that girl in the dentist because, as you can probably tell by this, I talk. A. LOT. Haha.

    I love your blog and I'm sure your daughters will talk to you, because if you were my mom I'm sure I would!

  14. When I was a teenager I drew away from my Mum a little as the hormones kicked in, and she was really close to my big sister who I had a hard time living up to, so I guess I turned to friends. We had a good relationship generally, but not a 'copious confiding' one. When I was about 16 my big sister went overseas to study (at BYU) and my relationship with my wonderful mother bloomed. Now I'm married with a little baby and barely go a day without calling once or even 3 times to catch up, chat, ask housekeeping or 'mum' questions, etc. We are (and my sisters) so close, and she is my best friend besides my husband.

    THE SECRET: Even though we didn't always have this relationship my Mum was ALWAYS there – like Heavenly Father 🙂 Even if I had been rude or mean or pushed her away or whatever, she has always been there, my biggest supporter. I love talking to her and hearing her advice and support, and hopefully being as good a friend to her as she is to me. I hope I can have this relationship with my kids one day, it's one of the most important things in my life.

    I should mention Mum never let me get away with anything and if I was doing anything wrong she would NOT let up! 🙂 It's because of that that I trust her so much. SHe's the best kind of Mum & friend.

    You seem like a wonderful Mother, I'm sure your girls will always be drawn to you 🙂

  15. With two teens in our house now, I've found that the old adage of "being there" is huge for forging connections with kids. Sometimes sitting down and watching a show with them that may hold little interest for me, will open the door to jabber a little. I also find that doing chores together, eating dinner together, and staying up a little later with them is huge. I feel like late-night is a great time to hear about what's going on with them. Their guard is down a little and they're much more likely to open up.

    I also feel like not constantly judging them–their clothes, hair, the state of their room, music, or other unimportant things is huge. Of course, sometimes they need guidance, but nagging gets them to turn off (and hide) faster than anything else. So my son's hair is shaggier than I like and I haven't seen the floor of his closet in years, but continually bugging him about it is not going to get him to suddenly want to clean his closet, but it will most likely get him to spend less time at home to avoid the nagging.

    Another thing we're really careful of is not to label or call names when they make mistakes. My husband and I have felt powerfully impressed that when facing instances where our children have made a mistake that needs discussing that we do so with gentleness. I feel like anger, even justified anger, will turn them away. Yes, they need consequences and guidance, but I find it's always more effective to do it slowly and gently and let the spirit guide us through those difficult conversations.

    I know this is a bit rambling, but I enjoyed the opportunity to think through this and to articulate it into words. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  16. Loved the story. I think security is the greatest thing you can give your teenager–a safe, happy place to come home to when school was hard, social situations were dicey and feelings are on the surface. They need to have a place where they'll be loved and everything is okay.

    I had a little signal I shared with my kids that would convey my feelings for them even when they were across the room and even though my son just left for college, we still share that signal. It just lets the kids know, in every situation, that you love them.

    Funny thing, I just wrote a post on Friday about it. It's the posting called "Don't Hold Your Baby"

  17. Hi 🙂 I hope you don't mind me commenting – I am a first-timer here; my daughter, Abby, told me she had already posted a comment on this post, and she gave me the link.
    I'm familiar with your family a little because I have some of your parents' books. How wonderful it must have been to grow up in such a strong and loving family. The thing is: it's still so wonderful for you, not just for all the obvious reasons, but also because you have excellent role models constantly before you for every stage of your life. I was able to work things out a lot for myself when our children were little. It's actually now, when I am a grandmother, that I wish I had more examples to draw from! But all that's another post, I guess 🙂
    As for your current topic: I really appreciated some comment by George Durrant in one of his books. My wonderful husband had brought me a book he thought I would like about parenting (this was some years ago), and, with some trepidation, I turned to the usual chapter on 'Mothers', ready to be discouraged or disheartened in one way or another! Elder Durrant described his wife and his mother, and how different they were from one another in their mothering styles, in so many ways. But he made the point that they both were vitally interested in and caring toward their children. And I thought, 'I can do that'. I have found that when they know I love them and are enormously interested in them, my children will open up. Even the boys! And even the teenage girls 🙂
    I also believe that in large part, the relationship we have with our teenage children can be a bit of a report card on how we were with them when they were young – in one way or the other. So that when they no longer actually need us – for food, shelter, transport or companionship – they choose to stay, and listen, and respect us because of the bonds of love we forged with them when they were young. It doesn't always work that way, of course, because life is not always fair, but I think it's the best chance for a good outcome in the teenage years. A bit like a bank that you make all the deposits in that you can, when they are young, so that they will be there in the teenage years when they are needed 🙂

  18. Thank you SO much for these thought-provoking comments. I have thought long and hard about each one. They have made me so much more aware of how I listen and how I ask questions to my kids. Thank you, thank you!!

  19. as a mother with a teenage girl that will say NOTHING i have to say it's personality.
    my son will tell me anything.
    but she thinks i am the enemy.
    they are all so different that it makes me crazy! 🙂

  20. Hi! New reader here, my sister reads your blog, and then I found that you're Brimley & Jakes aunt! I went to MVT with them and live next door to Brimley right now in Provo. Anyway, I thought I'd share my own experience with sharing with my mommie. All through junior high up to my sophomore year, I didn't tell my mom much. I really suffered for it though, I felt completely bottled up and "alone" with my thoughts. Then I remembered her saying much of what you have, how she would love to hear everything about my life. So one night when I was at the brink of my emotional well being I poured it all out. From then on I told her everything. And I mean evvverryything. A lot of it has to do with my emotional instability, aha but just venting to her and sharing in my accomplishments makes everything better.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is not much you can do. I was ready when I was ready. But maybe plant the seed 🙂 Along with what these moms are saying, I think my mom has found the perfect balance of being my friend and voice of reason. I definitely need her advice as well as her comfort. I've also found that the more I share with her, the more she shares with me. That's one thing I've appreciated most. I "get" her now, why she does the things she does, how she acts in situations, etc. And because of that, I can honestly say she is my best friend. (i'm also very mindful of what I say to her, i.e. not being mean, because I know what she is currently dealing with, her insecurities, etc.) That said, I think it's easier as we (children) get older to get on the "level" with our parents.

    It takes two to tango. It all depends on who decides to start dancing.

  21. Shawni,

    This isn't so related to this post, but I saw an article that mentions mother-daughter relationships and it made me think of your blog. Take a look at the second part about having conversations with your children to explain rules and expectations. This made me think of you, although I kind of hope that truly good communication wouldn't be dominated by arguments like in this article.

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