A couple of weeks ago, a parent chatted with me on WhatsApp and wanted to know a "formula" for which he could relate with his teenage nieces and nephews.
In our conversation, he said;
"I have teenage nieces and nephews. When around me, I don't know a systematic way to engage them in a conversation.
I found a formula that works with adults in cold relationships like seat mates on Planes). I used it when I used to travel by air a lot.
The formula is FORTH and is acronym for
FAMILY - OCCUPATION - RELIGION - TIME - HOBBY.
He continues, I will start by saying something like; "your traveling to see family?" and it takes off from there. If the person is in a conversational mood, you may not get to "Religion" on a 2 hour flight.
I need something I can remember for teens" he concluded.
The tween and teenage years is the stage in your child's life for adventure, throwing tantrums and pushing boundaries. Children at these ages start to pull away from parents and begin to assert their own independence.
This makes parenting complicated because the decisions they have to make have real consequence, like school and friends and driving, not to speak of substance use and sex.
Because they aren’t good at regulating their emotions yet, young people are prone to taking risks and making impulsive decisions.
This means that having a healthy and trusting parent-child relationship during these years is more important than ever.
However, there is a catch. While your child may be an open book to their friends, who they talk to constantly via text messages and social media, they might become mute when asked by mom how their day went. A request that is reasonable to dad may be received as a grievous outrage.
While I may not call my method a formula because you do not have to follow the steps in any exact order, here is my strategy for a better relational experience when talking with your tweens and teens that can improve your relationship with them and get them to open to you more.
S - Say something nice:
About their appearance, intellect or skill. Pay a compliment. What a compliment shouts out to your tween or teen is “Wow! You noticed!!” And more importantly it helps to build trust.
It doesn't have to be a big achievement, so don't be fake. They will know.
S - Call on them for help, advice or ask their opinion:
Contrary to what most people think, most teens are not lazy. They may not just be motivated enough. One thing that is sure to get young people going for hours and talking while at it is doing something that they consider " not the regular". Something that challenges then, and makes them feel important.
Ask for their help or idea on a project you are working on. Or a chore you are doing. (Don't leave it for them though, do it together). The bigger or more important the project, the more important they feel because you are asking their opinion. The more likely they will open up to you even more.
A - Ask questions:
Ask them questions about what they are doing or planning to do. Asking and listening while they speak shows that you are interested in them. Don't advice or caution. Dishing out advice before they've had a chance to fully express their thoughts will send them running in the opposite direction. listen, be present and attentive. To make an input don't impose, instead ask "what if, questions". Questions that provoke thinking and don't feel threatening.
N - No Judgements:
Do not judge them. Forgive and leave the past in the past. Before you reprimand, give them the opportunity to say their side of the story. This builds trust over time.
For some young people, all you may require could be a compliment to get them to drop their guards and get talking, but for others asking questions, seeking their input or just listening and paying attention may be the key to a conversation that would make the conversation magic happen. Your duty as parent is to keep trying and tweaking until we find something that works.
Remember, it's a stage, it will pass. By young adulthood, most children, now saddled with real life responsibilities that affect other lives like child raising, become more appreciative of the efforts their parents made in raising them right.
It's worth the wait.
Parenting&Teen-Coach - Counsellor - Education consultant