Are you connecting with your teenager or growing farther apart every day? Here are three things you can do to communicate and connect on a deeper level.

So, what do you and your teen talk about? My guess is that you discuss such items as academics, work, behaviors, privileges, sports involvement, picking the right friends, choosing the right clothes, performing chores, and obeying the rules of the house. 

Now, take a minute and think about what else you talk about. Pretty short list, isn't it? 

Most of what we talk about is what they're doing or need to do, not about what they're thinking or what their passions and goals are in life. This imbalance can create the impression that your relationships with your teen is determined by their actions and how they perform, versus your desire to really know them.  

The point is this . . . talking to your teenager does not necessarily mean you're communicating. In fact, too much talk can cover up what really needs to be said. Sometimes the most important connection with your teen can happen with very few words.  Are you looking for ways to really connect with your teen's deepest hopes, concerns and fears; or is the mode of communication between the two of you an endless stream of superficial words, demands, and lecturing? I encourage you to stop the chatter, look for what's under the surface, and connect with your teen in a more meaningful way. 

I. Communicate By Asking Questions

The power of a parent asking questions is amazing. Everyone knows that when you are asked your opinion, you feel valued. I'm talking about "What do you think?" questions, not "What did you do?" questions.  When asked in a non-condemning and non-prying way, these questions can convey a sense of value and relationship that is unparalleled by any other act of kindness. The movement toward a teen by asking them what they think lets them know you have an interest in them and that you value their opinion. 

So, ask your teen lots of questions. Not ones that make them uncomfortable, but the kind of questions that make them think about things. Find out how they would do something, where they would go, and why they think a certain way. Talk about controversial subjects as you would to a friend or co-worker for whom you have extreme respect. Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen? 

Talking to your teenager does not necessarily mean you are communicating. In fact, too much talk can cover up what really needs to be said. 

If parents don't ask questions, they could be missing serious hidden situations in the life of their teen.  Wise parents understand that anything can happen today, so they maintain an open line of communication with their teen to prevent things from getting out of hand if it does happen. Foolish parents never give it any thought, so they never ask questions. The most common comment I hear from the parents of hundreds of struggling teens is this: "I never knew this could happen to my child." Let me assure you from years and years of experience that anything can happen to anyone at any time. 

Engaging with your teen through the power of caring inquiry is crucial, but you must also learn to keep your mouth shut long enough to hear your teen's answer. If you know something is wrong, be sure to inquire past their first "Nothing's wrong" answer.  And when the real answer comes out, regardless of how bad or shocking it is, don't respond with anger or disappointment. Just listen. Establishing a line of communication is far more important at this point than scolding or getting your "I told you so" point across.