5 Ways to Become a Safe Person for Your Teen

My daughter and I have been watching Stranger Things together. While I love the show, I am regularly frustrated by the complete and utter cluelessness of the parents. They are comically unaware of what is going on in their kids’ lives, and their kids would never dream of telling them. Sadly, this is one part of the show that isn’t exactly science fiction. Many of us are clueless about what is happening in our kids’ lives and in their heads.

Trying to figure out how to get a child to open up about feelings to a parent can be maddening. We want so badly to walk with our teens through the challenges they face, but we don’t know how to do it. Perhaps our only model was comically clueless parents like the ones on Stranger Things. While you can’t make your teen open up to you, you can work to become the type of person he or she might want to be vulnerable with. Here are 5 ways to become a safe person for your teen.

1. Ask honest questions.

I currently have two children in their 20s. As they got older, they began to share stories from high school with us, and frankly, we were shocked by some of the things they shared. We assumed we knew what was going on the whole time. We were wrong.

The truth is you don’t really know what your teen is going through, so it’s critical to ask. Ask honest, open-ended questions regularly. Be curious about what’s happening in her life and assume you have much to learn.

2. Really listen.

Many of us listen to gather information rather than to understand where our teen is coming from. In that way, we’re constantly listening with an agenda. We want to fix what’s wrong.

If you’re curious as to how to get a child to open up about feelings, you must begin by listening, not to fix, but to understand. Let your teen be your teacher. Yes, of course you have much to teach your teen, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet. First, be sure to listen well.

If you want to be a safe person for your teen to confide in, you must begin by withholding judgment.

3. Withhold judgment.

One of the challenges we face in how to get a child to open up about feelings is the withholding of judgment. It’s difficult to listen to our teen, whom we love deeply, when she shares stories with us that are concerning. We want to jump in and tell her what she should’ve done differently. And of course, there is a time for that. However, if you want to be a safe person for your teen to confide in, you must begin by withholding judgment.

I don’t mean “don’t have an opinion,” as that’s impossible. But I do mean you need to work to keep your opinion to yourself, at least initially. Create a space for her to share all that she is feeling without fear of being told why she’s wrong.

4. Tell the truth.

Of course it’s critical for you to tell your teen the truth. It’s not that you need to ignore things you think would be helpful. It’s simply that you need to give adequate space for your teen to feel heard and understood before sharing your opinion.

And when you tell her what you think, do it humbly, not with arrogance but as someone who has also made his fair share of mistakes and often learned the hard way. Do it gently, as one who understands that the truth can both hurt and heal.

5. Offer grace.

Finally, offer grace. The key to how to get a child to open up about feelings is by creating an environment in which failure isn’t punished and weakness isn’t derided. If you create space where your teen can be imperfect and still know she is loved, you are well on your way to becoming the kind of person your teen believes to be safe and able to hold what she has to share.

After all, holding the deepest truths of someone else is a trust that isn’t simply given because you’re the parent. It must be earned by actually being safe.

Sound off: What other things could you do to become a safe person for your teen?

Huddle up with your teen and ask, “What makes someone safe to confide in?”