I have three kids, and two of them are middle schoolers and those big kids never want to talk to me about ANYTHING. Until it’s time to go to sleep, that is. Or if they need money. Then they’re chatty. My youngest is nine, and she still loves to tell me stuff, bless her precious heart, but this isn’t about her. It’s perfectly natural (and developmentally normal) for kids to want more privacy once they hit middle school. I try to respect that but I also to want to make sure we’re on the same page about the important stuff. That means I have to make myself someone who is easy to talk to.
Here’s a tip for making yourself an easy person for an older kid to talk to: When they suddenly want to tell you stuff at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night, and you’re exhausted and have a meeting in the morning and the kitchen still needs to get cleaned up and YOU KNOW in your heart they’re only talking to you to avoid going to sleep? Have the conversation anyway. The dishes can wait and you probably didn’t want to do them anyway.
The same goes for when they try to shake you down for money. Turn it into a conversation. But here’s the hard part: YOU HAVE TO LISTEN MORE THAN YOU TALK.
Maybe that’s not hard for you, in which case you’re already an awesome parent. For people like me who get really excited about these talks and start trying to furiously download all my wisdom and stories while I have the chance – stop. What your kids have to say is really important, and you need to show them that you’re taking them seriously and are interested in what they have to say. The more you can do that for them, the more likely they are to keep talking.
Now maybe a few weeks have gone by, and your big kids haven’t needed any money for Taco Bell and have been happy to go to sleep without procrastinating. Maybe you haven’t had any good conversations in a while, and you’re looking for a chance to start one. Here’s what I suggest – look to the stuff they’re watching, streaming, listening to, or texting and talk to them about that.
If you want to talk about some heavy and important stuff, ask them to make you a playlist. The music my kids listen to is all over the place, but it’s certainly not the wheels on the bus going round and round. There are references about everything from anxiety, depression, and suicide to drinking, drugs, and partying to extremely sweet love songs. Ask them about movies they want to see. Ask them what everyone is binge-watching. Look at memes together on your phones.
When it comes to big kids, two things matter most: trust and communication.
When a kid trusts you enough to really share things with you, you have to prove that you’re worthy of that trust. You can’t use that information against them later or gossip about it with the other parents. Without trust and communication, nothing really works. The good news is, between letting them stay up a little late to chat, being a good listener, and expressing interest in their music and shows – there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to feel closer and more connected. The taco money doesn’t hurt, either.
Julianna W. Miner is an adjunct professor of Public Health and a contributing author of the New York Times best-seller “I Just Want To Pee Alone” and of the award-winning humor blog Rants from Mommyland. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Parents Magazine, The Today Show, and many others. “Raising a Screen Smart Kid” will be published in 2019 by Tarcher Perigee (Penguin Random House).