I’ve heard it said a lot that teenagers don’t talk to their parents. What makes me said is that it’s usually said in jest, as in, “ha ha, it’s so hilarious how we are dysfunctional.” Whut.
There are ways that teenagers communicate even if they aren’t doing it directly. You can get to know someone by observing how they exercise their influence and spend their resources. Teenagers naturally broadcast their interests just by what they wear, how they style themselves, how they talk, how they act. The reason for this is to attract people with similar interests and to repel those with differing tastes. Watch for the non-verbal cues, and you can get to know the person. You can tell what’s important to them just be seeing what they do.
Some things to consider when observing:
- What do they argue about?
This is a clear indicator of what they think is important or unfair. Instead of focusing on their disagreement, observe which principles they hold onto. You can tell what they feel is important based on how much they hold their ground.
- What do they like (praise) and hate (complain about)?
I think it’s easy for parents to ignore complaints about things that are “normal” or that should be hard. It’s common, though, to have certain things be the straw on the camel’s back. Think of situations where you were frustrated by something else, and then something *small* just tips you over the edge and makes you angry. It’s not that small thing that is a real bother, but something underneath. Listening to a complaint can be a start to knowing what’s really going on.
- Do they have unique eating habits?
Maybe they are vegetarian because they think animal rights is important. It’s easy for adults to dismiss teenager’s opinions, roll their eyes, or just say, “well that’s dumb.” It would be so simple though to just say that you noticed a difference, and ask if they feel a certain way about things. Learning someone’s preferences is a quick way to build a relationship. In our own lives, friendships commonly begin with similar interests, and build from there.
- What kind of TV shows or movies do they like? What about video games? What books do they like to read?
In some cases it could simply be “what everyone else is into.” And that’s fine. But again, if there’s something unique, then you’ve found something that they are into by themselves.
- Where do they work?
- Where do they like to hang out?
- What do they do with their free time? Their money?
- What kind of friends do they hang out with?
- What kind of music do they listen to?
- Which classes are they doing well in and which ones are they not?
- What kind of clothes do they wear?
In each case, a distinct preference denotes individuality.
As you narrow down a teenager’s behavior from generic (loud music, preening, spending time with friends) to specific (likes rap, likes to work out a lot, hangs with the same group every weekend) that is where you start to discover their personality.