Recently I had a camera crew follow me for several day on my live speaking tour as I visited middle and high schools. They captured so many cool moments as I connected with kids, not only sharing my story, but also hearing theirs. While combing through the interview footage of kids that were in the audience, I heard of the coolest compliments I could ever received. When asked what she liked about my speech, a teen said, "He was real. You were right there with him." This was echoed by other teens throughout the video.
One of my goals as a person is to live a life that is 100% authentic. When I communicate with someone I want them to hear my heart. Even if there are hundreds or thousands of teens in a room, I want to remove the barriers and connect with the heart of each individual. You may not speak to large groups of young people for a living, like I do, but I bet you want to be more effective at communicating with your own kids. Parents often ask me , "How do I connect with my teen that doesn't want to tell me anything?" I believe the answer has a lot to do with being "real".
Open and honest communication is something that we all desire but often, I find, that relationships are very shallow and don't dare to dive below the surface, where real connection can happen. When I assess the most valuable relationships in my life, I realize that they all have one thing in common - we take the risk to be real. This simply means that we aren't afraid to ask (or answer) the tough questions. We challenge, we hold each other accountable, and we love even when we don't feel like it. Being real means stepping outside your comfort zone. Yes, it's possible that you might get hurt, but to find significance in relationships, I truly believe that you have to take this step.
Often parents have close relationships with their kids when they're young. All of sudden adolescence hits, your cute little boy/girl starts to become more independent, their voice deepens, and over time you feel like communication becomes more difficult. Things that used to become easy conversation topics no longer are interesting. As their age changes, so does the ease of conversation.
If you want your kids to be open and honest, work on communicating in a way that is real, vulnerable, and sometimes even a bit raw. I don't suggest that you share something simply to expect that they will provide the same level of vulnerability. You first must create a fully safe space and recognize that their boundaries and level of comfortability may differ from yours. Often kids don't share things with their parents either because they fear their parents reaction or because they feel like maybe they don't measure up.
Potential Thoughts That Build Walls...
- If I share __________, my mom/dad will think less of me.
- My mom/dad would freak out if I told them that ______________.
- My mom/dad could never relate to __________________.
By understanding some thoughts that build walls, you can work hard to find ways to combat these thoughts and break these myths.
Potential Thoughts That Build Bridges...
- If I share ___________, my mom/dad will better understand me and where I'm coming from.
- My mom/dad might not be happy about _______________ but I know I could have a meaningful conversation with them about it.
- My mom/dad would do their best to understand what I'm going through and may have some good advice from their experiences.
Your teen is likely to base their thoughts on past experiences. After all past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. Take some time over the next week to take the risk of being real. Share something that might help deepen your relationship with your teen and foster discussion. It may take time but your teen will likely take more to heart than what you realize.