How to keep teens talking with parents

Experts promote open communication between parents and teens.
Updated: Jan. 4, 2021 at 2:47 PM EST
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(WVLT) - Do your teens tell you everything, from where they’re going to who they’re dating? Do they share their activity on social media? Or is it a battle to extract any information from them? Getting teens to open up is an age-old struggle, but there is science behind parent-child communication and the best strategies for getting your teen to talk. Growing up, did you ever hide information or lie to your parents?

Wendy Rote, Ph.D., Developmental Psychologist at the University of South Florida, studied 174 pairs of moms and teens, including 111 pairs that also included dads. She wanted to know how much information kids willingly offer up and how parents get the other details they’re looking for. Rote and her team found five to seven percent of the families were what they called covert communicators. “These were kids who were doing much more lying and they also did some avoidance, only telling partial elements of it,” explained Rote. Some parents in these families snooped to get their information, checking the teens’ phones and computers.

Covert communicators had the most depression and the most negative interactions with their parents. Twelve percent of the mother-teen pairs were indirect communicators, telling their parents some details and leaving some out. And 82 percent were open communicators, meaning teens offered parents information without being asked and had the most positive parent-teen interactions.

Rote says families can take incremental steps toward open communication. “Set an open expectation with the teen that every week we’re going to look through your phone history log so that at least it’s not behind their back,” shared Rote. Explain to your teen why it’s important that you know where they are and who they’re communicating with online. Ask them at least three questions every day. It helps establish a healthy pattern of communication.

In the families where both parents were studied, the developmental psychologists found that teens used a lot more avoidance with their fathers. Among the father-teen pairs who used covert strategies, both fathers and teens reported more teen problem behavior.

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