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Want Your Teen To Open Up? Save Your Judgment For Later

If you want your kids to open up to you about the things that really count, you need to be open to really hearing what they have to say.

10/27/2017 12:02 EDT | Updated 10/27/2017 12:52 EDT

Are your new jeans "on fleek?" Do your kids send more Snapchats and post more Insta-stories than @girlwithnojob, @boywithnojob and @pupwithnojob combined? Is "to selfie" actually a verb in your house? And what's with "bae," who is he/she — and are they "basic" or "savage?" Do you ever feel like your teen is actually speaking a foreign language (even though it still sort of sounds like English?) Do you often feel like you are speaking to the walls? Who is Felicia and why did your daughter just say "bye" to her, but wave to you?

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If you are the parent of a middle-school or high-school student who acts like this, you are not alone! Part of the reason parents and teens butt heads so much is that they are essentially speaking different languages. We want more than anything for our kids to be happy, healthy and safe. We want them to make good choices and we want them to confide in us. But how can we talk to them and impart our wisdom without getting shut out?

Here are some legit strategies for getting your adolescent to trust you and open up.

Be that parent all the kids confide in

You know who I'm talking about — we all had one growing up. Two of my oldest friends are twins and I could talk to their mom about anything because she was approachable. We all talked to her and confided in her when we had problems we couldn't tell our own parents. We did this because we could trust her not to judge us and to help us find the best way to handle challenging (and sometimes embarrassing) situations. She found a way to straddle the role of parent and confidante — she wasn't my friend, but I could be honest with her without any fear of judgment and without hearing, "I told you so." or "I can't believe you would do something like that."

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It's OK to lose the battles to win the wars

While there are a few rules that are non-negotiable, don't take a hard line with everything or your home life will be a constant power struggle. This is how I run my middle-school classroom — you want to sit on the floor to work? No problem! You accidentally swore because you stubbed your toe — understandable. Your jeans don't quite meet dress code requirements? Not really a problem and certainly not worth the argument. Bullying? Safety? Aggression? Non-negotiable.

Save the big guns for when it really counts.

My point here is that you should only make a big deal about the rules when it's really important. From early on in the school year, my students know that this is how I roll, and it works. This strategy works well for parents, too. Your daughter wants to dye her hair blue? Go with it. Your son gets a little too rowdy with his friends — par for the course. My point? Save the big guns for when it really counts and I promise, the rules and reprimand will be a million times more effective.

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Don't judge them, even though you really, really want to

When kids fear judgment, they shut down. Your kid needs to know that they can tell you that they've made mistakes without fear of hearing things like, "How could you possibly be that stupid!" You want to be the parent your kid calls when they are in a bind — be it a party that's gotten out of control, a friend who's gotten too drunk or a fender bender that was clearly their fault. Be that parent by taking the judgment out of the equation.

When I was in high school, I was out with a friend and her car got towed. She was too scared to call her own parents, so I called my dad. Even though it was pretty late at night, he bailed us out and not once did he say, "I can't believe you girls didn't read the parking signs." Instead, he showed up and helped us. He taught me that I could trust him to help me, without fear of judgment, even if I'd made a dumb mistake. So instead of judging your kids, help them out of the tough situation and then process later. Chances are your kid knows that he/she made a bad decision — they don't need to be chastised, and no, they likely will not do it again.

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Tell them about how badly you messed up when you were a teenager

I messed up and got too drunk at a high school dance, and the school called my parents. Rather than reprimand me, my dad told me about how he once stole a stop sign while he was out joyriding in his mom's car. He told me how mortified he was when the cops rang the doorbell, told his mother and asked for the stop sign to be returned. Hearing that he had messed up as badly as I had allowed me to relate to him and learn more from my mistake than punitive consequences would have.

Talk to them on their level.

Adults have this habit of talking to teens from a position of superiority, which makes their kids run for the hills. Talk to them on their level. You need to be non-judgmental, even in your facial expressions/body language (you might have to do a really good job of faking it). If there's something shocking — teen pregnancy, excessive drinking, getting arrested — save your shock for a private moment and process it afterwards.

The bottom line? If you want your kids to open up to you and talk to you about the things that really count, you need to be open to really hearing what they have to say.

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