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Is there anything more exasperating, more maddening than when a teen in your family refuses to answer a question by speaking instead of shrugging? Is there anything that drives you closer to the edge than a son or daughter who won’t offer an audible opinion, participate in a dinner conversation or even utter a preference? Both of us have been there — and to be honest, neither of us had the patience to discover a remedy.
However, we have talked to a lot of dads (and moms) who found the keys to unlocking those sealed lips. Before we share some of those ideas, we’d like to offer a few fatherly memories from our own experience.
Who me? Never
“Dad, the reason why I don’t say anything is because you always disagree and put me down.” Ouch! “Dad, you usually do all the talking.” Who … quiet and shy dad? “Dad, you never listen — you always interru…” Hey now, when have I ever cut you off? That’s your mother. “Dad, you never just talk to me … you talk at me.” It’s high time, young lady, for you to realize just who’s in charge here and shape up!
We both wonder to this day if our kids ever wrote themes in English class titled something like “When My Dad Won’t Shut Up,” or “I’m a Parenthesis in My Dad’s Sermons.” Sometimes a thought strikes you that is so simple you wonder how you missed it. Maybe, just maybe, while we were going nuts all those years because our kid wouldn’t talk … our kid was going nuts because we wouldn’t shut up. And let’s face it. What teen wants to talk when dad pauses, yields the floor with an exaggerated wave of the hand and says in a patronizing tone, “Your turn.”
More: Parents learn what teens want: ‘They want to tell you their secrets’
Find common ground
Dad, here are some ideas you might try if your teen refuses to talk:
• First, step out of your role as boss dad for just a while. Find neutral ground. (The home is not neutral ground. That’s where your traditional roles are magnified the most.)
• What does your son or daughter like to do? Get a couple of tickets to a sporting event or movie. Let the event be the common ground for conversation. No family issues allowed.
• If your son or daughter has a hobby, shop together for items that support that hobby. Keep the talk focused on the hobby.
• What would your teen like to do that he’s never done before? If you’re able to accommodate his desire, then do it with him or her. (If it’s skydiving, you can scream together. Just make sure you’re not screaming about family issues.)
• Is there a popular book just published that your teen has mentioned? If so, buy two copies and talk about characters and incidents along the way.
If nothing seems to work, dad, just wait. We recall a lovely sentiment: Love comes as birth does, knowing its own time.” Step back and allow that process to unfold.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of “Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers.” Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at Dads2Dadsllc. Contact them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com.
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