My Little isn’t so little anymore. How do I connect with a teenager?

Whether you’ve been matched with your Little for a few years or just a few months, you have probably experienced some of the quirks that are unique to adolescence (age 10-21). This time is marked by identity development, desire for independence, self-direction, sexuality, physical changes, and cognitive development. Although all of these changes may be occurring, it can be difficult for Littles and Bigs to acknowledge. This time becomes increasingly more about the time that they spend with their peers and communication with adults can sometimes become a bit more difficult.  Don’t fret! This is a normal time in your Little’s life and managing this transition is possible.

So you’re not sure what to talk to your Little about? Although it may seem like it, talking to a teen is not rocket science. These days, they’re talking about what’s going on in their favorite shows, books, music, skateboarding, cars, fashion trends, dating, celebrities, new foods, their social groups, phone apps, and other interests. It doesn’t hurt to catch up on a few of these things every once in a while, but you can also have your Little inform you on what’s interesting to them. Explaining things gives them a sense of empowerment as long as you genuinely seem interested in learning about their world.

It is common for adolescents to become more withdrawn when speaking to adults. Their stories may include minimal details or they may not initiate conversations the way you’d like. When this happens, it’s always good to take some time to manage your expectations. Realize that your Little is now a teenager, therefore their communication will go through some adjustments.  They are not adults, so you can’t speak to them like one of your peers, but they are no longer little kids either. Oftentimes, when teens speak to adults, they are being given lectures about what they should be doing or how the adult they’re speaking to learned from their own mistakes. I’ve heard many of our Bigs explain their desire to become a Big as wanting to pass on their own experiences to a young person. Although it is great for them to learn about others’ experiences, this type of conversation can easily be blocked out by an adolescent. You might see them disengage by texting or giving you a blank stare. They may be thinking, “I’ve heard this before,”  “Why are they asking me so many questions?” or “Why does telling my experience always lead to hearing their entire life story?”

Dos and Don’ts of Communication

Trying to communicate with a teenager can be frustrating. You can spend time trying to strategize before each outing really trying to come up with something that might be interesting or recounting all of your teenage experiences just so that you’ll have something to contribute next time your Little talks about something that reminds you of your youth. Instead of trying to figure out the perfect words, just go with the flow of conversation. The conversation shouldn’t be about letting them know about the best way to go about handling a situation. Don’t go into a conversation with an agenda. Just be there to listen. Ask some furthering questions along the way to keep the conversation going. If your Little says that they’d like to apply for a job, try asking them how they plan on going about that process. Helping them think through the process is key. Oftentimes, teens will say things, but won’t know how to string together the steps. This is not the time for you to tell them all of your favorite tips. This is a great opportunity for you to help them think it through. If they seem to stumble along the way, it’s okay to insert a tip or two, but get to your point. They started the conversation so that it could be a dialogue and not another lecture from another adult. Taking a moment to check your tone can make the difference between lecture and discussion.

Stay on topic. Sometimes adults get ahead of themselves when speaking to teens. Talking isn’t about asking a bunch of disjointed questions. When you get their attention, continue on with that topic. Ask questions to get them to expand on a topic. For example, your Little may say that photography is their favorite class in school. Instead of then asking them about their least favorite class since it’s still on the topic of school, ask them why they like photography. What projects are they working on currently? What makes them prefer digital to film or color to black and white? Asking open-ended questions (questions that aren’t simple yes or no) helps them to elaborate when answering your question.

When you’re speaking to your Little, try to stay positive. Although you may disagree with some of their ideas or decisions, pointing out all of the things that you view as wrong is not helpful when you’re trying to get them to open up to you. Just think about your own life. You would probably be less likely to go to a friend, family member, or colleague to talk about something if every time you opened up to them, you were constantly being told about what you’re doing wrong and were not able to fully communicate your feelings and opinions. If you feel that the going to that person attracted negative attention, you would be less likely to go to them again in the future. The same thing goes for a teenager. If they feel like the verbal communication is more positive, they’re more likely to go to you again in the future.

So you’ve spoken to your Little about how to go about things and they are still making mistakes? That’s normal! Oftentimes, teenagers know what they should do, but then their actions don’t follow logic. Sometimes it takes making mistakes to really learn and change negative behavior. As long as your Little is making mistakes that are appropriate for their stage of development, they are okay. It is not the end of the world. It’s even better when they come back to you and are open enough to discuss the issue with you. If they are able to talk about their mistakes with you without feeling judgment or pressure to please you, they are likely to come to you again to help them through a tough situation.

When you’ve talked about every subject and tried to spark their interest in every way that you know how to do, it is okay to be comfortable with silence. This is one step that took me a long time to learn. Give yourself a bit more credit. Sometimes your Little just likes to be out with you. Spending time with someone who isn’t pressuring them to do things and trying to direct them is what they appreciate. This isn’t to say that you should let everything slide, but choose your battles and check them when it’s necessary. One of the great things about having a Big is that they get to have someone who is just for them. If your Little seems to be a bit more quiet for a few outings, that’s okay. Let them know that you are there for them should they be ready to open up. Showing up for each outing and keeping your commitment shows them that they can rely on you. If they feel ready, they’ll open up to you. Know that your presence in their life is beneficial even if you do not get their verbal confirmation.

Feeling like you identify with some of these issues? How have you gone about communicating with your Little in the past? Leave a comment, tip, or question. Sharing your experiences might just help out another Big.

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