How To Get Your Son To Talk

Much of what I have learned about working with teenage boys came from my mom. While I have degrees, credentials and experience, what my mom taught me has stayed with me over the years.  As the mother of four boys, she had to quickly figure out how to get her sons to talk to her.  Not until years later, did I realize how brilliant her strategy was.

Mom would never press me or my brothers to talk. She would ask the typical questions that all moms ask: “How was school?” “How are you feeling?” “Do you want to talk?”  What made her approach so successful was that she knew whether to press us for information or just let the question sit out there unanswered. Most often, I gave my mom those one word answers that drive most parents crazy. “Good.” “OK.” “Fine.”  She knew the translation was that I didn’t want to talk. She also knew that I wasn’t always doing fine, but if she pushed me I would most definitely shut down.

It doesn’t sound like a brilliant approach so far, does it? The brilliance is in this: Whenever I wanted to talk to her—and I mean whenever—she would drop everything she was doing and listen to me. She wouldn’t bombard me with questions and advice.  Instead, she would say things like, “What else?” “Tell me more.” “That must have made you angry, sad, and happy (or another emotion).” I have memories of talking to her for hours and it never seemed to be an inconvenience for her. Now that I am a parent myself, I can see how that wasn’t always the case. Being woken up in the middle of the night to listen to her son must have been difficult, even frustrating. But she was always happy to listen. What my mom knew was she had to capitalize on the rare opportunities that I wanted to share what was going on with me.  She knew that if she did not wake up at 2am, it might be another month before I wanted to talk again. 

Being a parent is not an easy job at all.  However, I believe that the payoffs of listening to your son even when you are tired, do not feel like listening, and have a thousand of other little things on your mind, are worth it.  So, the next time your son comes to you and says, “Hey, can we talk?” I hope you put everything aside and just listen.

Michael L. Stoller