How to Create a Safe Space So Your Teen Will Talk

Val Mullally

April 8, 2022

safe space for teen

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Parenting a teen can be really tricky, especially recognising that your role with your teen needs to shift. Creating a safe space for your teen to talk to you is one of the things that you can do to support them. Here are some tips and insight on how to do this, helping you and your teen to build a better relationship:

Creating a Safe Space for Your Teen to Talk to You

I imagine every parent looks back and questions how they raised their children: ‘Did I do the right thing?’ I know I have wished I’d done some things differently. If you asked me what was the one thing I most wish I’d known when my kids were in their teens, I’d say: how to create a safe space for my teen to talk.

I still remember my 14-year-old’s comment, ‘Mum, last night some of the boys smuggled drink into the party.’

I jumped in with Parenting Lecture 101: ‘You know that’s not okay. I hope you never do that. You know how disappointed your dad and I would be if you did that. Blah blah blah blah blah.’

Within a short while, my son stopped telling me what was going on in his life. And why would he! He had quickly figured that, if he shared his teenage world with me, he’d be in for the ‘Here’s what you should do’ lecture. And what teen wants that in their life.

What Your Teen Most Needs

It has taken me years (and some heavy heartache) to recognise how I missed what my son most needed in moments like that. My son didn’t need me to moralise – he needed me to connect. When he told me about the boys drinking at the party, I wish I had recognised that he was seeking a safe space to talk, so that he could figure out for himself how to handle a tricky situation.

He already knew my standpoint – he’d lived with me for the past fourteen years! As my son faced the challenges of this unfamiliar world of teenage-hood, my angst robbed us of the opportunity to communicate about the things that really mattered at a time when he needed me most.

I think if I had known how to listen – really listen! – I would have heard something like, ‘Mum, I know you and Dad don’t think it’s okay for kids to be drinking alcohol at parties. But what am I supposed to do when all my friends are drinking? I want to fit in.’

He didn’t want a sermon. He wanted a sounding board to explore his own experience, and make sense of it.

What Makes the Teen Years So Challenging?

Tips for Parents of an Anxious Teen

Your child no longer belongs in childhood – but doesn’t yet fit into adulthood. The young person pushes away from parental control and bonds closely with his peers, as countless generations have done before him, because bonding with those who are on this same journey is a natural part of the becoming the next generation.

This doesn’t mean that your teen doesn’t want to connect with you – but he does need to move out of his role as a dependent child and learn to function as a soon-to-be-adult.

Parenting your PreTeen

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6 Steps to Create a Safe Space for Your Teen to Talk

#1. Recognise that your role with your teen needs to shift.

At this stage of their lives, they don’t want you to be the lifeboat (well – hardly ever!) Rather, view yourself as a lighthouse, that helps them to see where dangers may lie, and where they can find safety.

#2. Choose a mindset of trust.

Focus on building a relationship of trust and mutual respect – recognising that you, as the parent, need to take the lead on that. Trust builds trust. Show you’re trustworthy!

#3. Make listening a priority.

When your preteen or teen chooses to talk about what’s going on in their lives, stop whatever you’re doing (if you possibly can!) and make listening your priority.

When you give them your full attention, even if it’s 2am, they will be more likely to share with you again.

#4. Listen with empathy and ‘park’ your own strong emotions.

When you focus on ‘How is this for my child?’ you learn to listen without judging or trying to impose your solutions.

Our anger and anxiety, and sometimes even our enthusiasm, can get in the way of listening well. Consciously keep yourself focused on what is being shared. If your mind chases off on its own story, call it back to the present moment and to the task of focusing on what you are hearing.

#5. ‘Listen’ to their body language and the tone of their voice, as well as their words.

You can be so focused on what your teen is saying, that you don’t notice how they are saying it. Listen to shifts in energy, the tone and strength of their voice, gestures, the look in their eye, the pauses – all clues to what lies below the surface.

#6 Avoid ‘fix it’ mode.

It’s easy to jump in with advice-giving. But you are not always going to be there to guide them. They need to develop their own inner compass. When you listen well, you give your teen the inner space to untangle muddled thoughts and to find their own solutions – solutions that work for them to navigate some of the tricky situations that a teen has to handle.

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The Way Forward

safe space for your teen to talk

Many things are beyond a parent’s control in the teenage years, and one thing that is within your control is creating a safe space so your teen can talk.

Your teen intuitively knows when you hold that calibre of listening space. They may not choose to talk with you today. They may not choose to talk deeply with you this week.

But when you’ve shown them that you are their safe space, they’ll know you are there when they need you most.

Parenting Your Pre-Teen Online Course

‘The time to have a map is before you enter the woods’ – and the time to learn how to truly listen is before your child enters the teenage years. That’s why I’m offering my ‘Parenting your PreTeen’ live online course. One of the core skills you’ll learn is ‘How to listen so your teen will talk’. We’ll also cover other key elements that every tween/teen parent needs – like how not to lose your cool and how not to nag!

‘My relationship with my child has improved ten-fold since attending this course.’

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How to Create a Safe Space so Your Teen Will Talk

Like this? Share it with your network!

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Published On: April 8th, 2022 / Categories: For Parents, Sponsored Posts / Last Updated: July 5th, 2022 / Tags: , /

About the Author: Val Mullally

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Val Mullally focuses on activating your inner wisdom in work, parenthood and life. She is an accredited Parenting Coach, Professional Reflective Practice Facilitator and founder of Koemba Parenting. She offers Parenting courses (both face-to-face and online), and is available as a workshop facilitator and a keynote speaker. Val is author of: 'BEHAVE - What to Do When Your Child Won’t’, ‘Stop Yelling – 9 Steps to Calmer, Happier Parenting’ ‘Baby and Toddler on Board – Mindful Parenting When a New Baby Joins the Family’ and ‘Ancient Wisdom for Business Success – How to Lead with Courage, Clarity and Confidence’ She is currently co-authoring ‘In Defence of the Naughty Child - Understanding Sensory Sensitivity’ and will be speaking on this topic at TEDx Wexford on 11 August 2022. Val spent many years in Southern Africa, where she worked as a teacher, principal and trainer in Education. She and her husband now live in the place her heart calls home, in their traditional Irish cottage in North County Cork, Ireland.

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