Every time your teenager walks into the room you have two choices. You can let them know you are glad to see them. Or you can wonder what nastiness they have been up to and pick a fight.

If your body language is welcoming, if your smile is sincere, and if there’s a plate of brownies on the kitchen counter, there’s a good chance the interaction and conversation will be a positive experience. Instead of grunts and shrugs, you may even get a few discernible words or actual insight about what’s going on in their lives. 

Pulling your teen in: How to talk so kids will listen

You can increase the odds by telling them a wee bit about your own day and bringing up something in which they find amusement or have a passing interest. That could include a short anecdote or relevant fact about the dog, their favorite sports team, your weird neighbors, a breaking news story, an upcoming family event, Grandma and Grandpa, the latest tech gadget, and so on. 

Your interaction may even be a request for help. Asking your teenager for their preference of pizza toppings, for ideas on vacation destinations, or how to install an iPhone app is actually empowering for them. You value their opinions! Make your narrative or question short, sweet, and engaging, and leave an opening for them to respond. And, well, they just might.

Repelling your teen: How to talk so kids will listen

On the other hand, if your body language repels, if your grimace is accusing, and if you’re expecting bad news, then that’s what you’ll get. If it’s been several hours since interacting with your teenager, the first words out of your mouth should not be reminders of unfinished chores, accusations about dirty dishes or empty gas tanks, snide comparisons to perfect cousins, or queries about grades and homework. Eventually, you need to be able to broach some of those topics.  But don’t get in the habit of launching surprise attacks and don’t make bad news the first or last thing they hear. 

Mom and Dad, think of it as building trust, respect, and even, laying the groundwork for an adult friendship. If your teenager comes to expect a winsome and amicable home environment, they may enter a room and voluntarily plop down in your proximity. Experience tells them your companionship will be tolerable for a short period of time. With a bit of luck, it could be – dare I say – pleasant! 

But if the judgment, chiding, and mistrust are more likely, they’ll schlep through or sneak past straight to their room. Can you blame them? They are well aware that if they stop they’ll somehow be in trouble for something, even if they’re just guilty of adolescence.

Finally – no matter what – when any interaction is over, you’ll want to make sure you are pulling your teenager toward you. Not pushing them away. Finish on a high note. Don’t allow a dialogue to finish with a door slam or grumbling comment. Even if the two of you just endured a tough conversation, the last words ringing in their ears should be positive. Even though you’ve been proving it for years, teenagers still need to be reassured of your unconditional love.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. —Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)

Consider your last conversation with your kid. Did you pull them toward you or push them away? Is an apology in order?