My best friend Brad and I sat in his front yard, lost in conversation. He had just found out that his parents were getting a divorce, and we had spent the last several hours talking about the problems he was facing.
Then I looked down at my watch. It was past 1:00 A.M. “Oh no,” I said as I jumped to my feet, “I was supposed to be home by midnight. My dad’s gonna kill me.” I wished Brad luck in the coming days, said good-bye, and jogged the five blocks to my house.
The front porch light was still on—a bad sign. It meant Dad was waiting up for me.
I opened the front door cautiously and stepped inside. “Do you know what time it is?” boomed his voice from the living room.
“Dad, I’m really sorry. See, Brad just found out …”
“It’s after 1:00. Didn’t I tell you to be home by midnight?”
“Yeah, but …”
“There are no ‘buts’ about it. You’re more than an hour late.” He was shaking with anger. “You won’t be going out for a while, young man.”
I didn’t like being convicted without a trial. “That’s not fair. At least give me a chance to explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain,” he snapped. “You’re late. That’s all there is to it. Now get to bed.”
“C’mon,” I argued, “it’s not fair.”
Our conversation deteriorated from there as Dad and I traded accusations. He never listened, I said. I had no respect, he said. And so it went.
By the time I finally did go to bed, I was too upset to sleep. I was worried about Brad, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t talk to my dad about it. I wished things were different, that I could have come home and told him about Brad’s parents. But instead of talking, we only argued about my curfew for the hundredth time.
I really wanted to be able to communicate with my dad, and sometimes I sensed that he felt the same way, but for some reason, we were never able to connect.
It’s not always easy to talk to parents. Some kids, and you may be one of them, have a great relationship with their parents. These kids can talk, without fear or awkwardness, about anything and everything with their parents. But not everyone is so lucky. As a kid, I always wanted to have meaningful talks with my mom and dad, but I wasn’t able to. We had a good relationship, but we never really talked. Looking back, I realize that I expected my parents to make all the efforts at establishing communication. That’s where I was wrong. There are things kids can do to improve communication between themselves and their parents.
The first thing you can do is talk to them. It may not be easy at first, but it will be worth it. “My dad and I talked,” says a high school student I know, “but we never really sat down and had serious talks about what’s going on in my life, about problems I had, or things I wanted to accomplish. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever had a serious talk with my dad was when he was bishop and had to interview me on my birthday.
“That interview really helped me see that I could improve our communication if I met him halfway. Things didn’t change overnight, but since then, he and I both have tried harder to find the time to sit down together once in a while and talk.”
One girl I know interviews her parents about once a week. “I don’t really ‘interview’ them,” she says, “not in an obvious, formal way. But I do catch them when they’re not busy and ask them questions about their childhood, their high school days, that kind of stuff. Once they start answering, I just sit back and listen. It’s amazing what I’ve learned about my mom and dad that way.”
The more you talk to your parents in everyday situations, the easier it will be to talk to them in times of crisis and emotion. Meaningful communication doesn’t just happen—it takes practice, practice that you can often initiate.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to talk. If that’s the case, try some creative approaches. One young missionary told me, “I always wanted to talk to my mom. Oh, we talked about lots of things but never about anything serious or personal. We had a good relationship—we got along well—but we never really talked.
“There was so much that I wanted to tell her, so many questions I wanted to ask her before I went on my mission, but I just couldn’t do it.
“So I wrote her a letter, a long letter, and left it on her dresser. That really opened things up for us, and we had a couple of great talks before I left.”
If time is a problem for you and your parents, use your imagination to find the time to be with them. For example, you might meet them at work and have lunch with them. Or at home, get up early or stay up late so you can talk without any interruptions. You can even make an appointment with them, write down a specific time and place, to talk about things. If you put your mind to it, you can come up with other ways to help you and your parents find the time to talk.
Of course, sometimes you’ll want your mom and dad to listen, not talk. As you’ve probably noticed, many adults suffer from acute Advice-Giving Syndrome. I know I do. My daughter Christy will often start to tell me about a problem she’s having at school or with friends, and immediately I stop listening and start telling her what she should do. I know that Christy wants to express herself more than she wants my advice, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.
A student of mine has a good approach to use on parents (or any other adult, for that matter) who tend to give advice when they should be listening. “My parents love to give me advice,” he says, “and lots of times, I don’t mind. But sometimes I really want them to listen to what I have to say, so I’ll tell them, ‘Mom and Dad, I want to tell you something, and I want you to listen—without talking—until I’m finished. I really want to tell you this, but if you’re not going to listen, I’m not going to tell you. If you’ll listen to me, then I’ll listen to what you have to say.’ That usually works.”
It might not always be that easy to get your parents to listen to you. Sometimes emotion can interfere with the communication. If either one of you is upset, the lines of communication break down rapidly. “Whenever I ask my dad about getting my driver’s license,” one high school student once told me, “he just gets mad.”
“And what do you do when he gets mad?” I asked her.
“I get mad right back. Then we have a big fight all over again.”
Touchy subjects can be discussed without everyone involved getting in “a big fight.” If you’ve got to talk to your parents about something, but you’re scared to death to do it, you can ease the situation by expressing your feelings. Say, “I’m really afraid to tell you this, but …” Or if your parents are upset, try recognizing their feelings by saying something like, “You’re really angry about …” The better you and your parents understand the emotions you bring to a conversation, the easier it will be to communicate.
I wish now that I had handled that incident with my dad regarding my curfew a little differently. He was so angry at the time that it was fruitless for me to argue with him that night. But I could have approached him later, when we were both feeling less emotional, and tried to explain my feelings to him.
Even though I knew it was important, it was always very difficult for me to talk to my mom and dad. This lack of communication was frustrating, but what kept me from getting too discouraged or angry was the knowledge that they loved me. And I loved them. Whatever communication weaknesses we shared, at least we had our hearts in the right place.
That kind of love between children and parents is the basis for effective communication. No matter what your mom and dad say—or don’t say—they still love you. Keep that in mind as you take steps to improve communication with your parents.
Keep the lines of communication open by regularly talking with your parents.
For important discussions, select a time when your parents aren’t upset or preoccupied and a place where they won’t be distracted. Prepare yourself by praying for the Lord’s Spirit.
Encourage them to listen. If you want them to listen to you, tell them. If they interrupt to give advice, tell them you appreciate their advice, but at this time what you want most is for them to listen to you.
If you or your parents are upset, ease the emotions by expressing your own feelings (“You’re worried that …”).
Help them understand what you’re saying by asking them to repeat what you’ve told them. If they’ve misunderstood what you’ve said, explain to them again.
Be honest—always, about all things.
When asking for their advice, explain pertinent information clearly and objectively.
Help them relate to your situation by asking, “What was it like when you were …” or by prefacing your remarks with, “Remember when you were my age?”
Be willing to take the first steps yourself. There’s no rule that says parents must be the ones who initiate parent-child communication.
Remember no matter what your parents may say (or don’t say), they love you and want you to be happy.