"How did you do on the math test?" OK.
"How is it going with Mrs. Turner?" Good.
Sound familiar? Yep, this is a Mom talking to (not with, mind you) her 13-year old (pick a gender, any gender).
At about age 10, physical changes start moving kids toward adolescence and this means they are maturing sexually (you can cover your eyes, but it's still gonna happen, just "embrace the horror", so to speak; your parents did when they were raising you!). Privacy is one of the most sought-after commodities and they seek it with a vengeance. Read one of my previous posts and you'll get the "down and dirty" on this adolescence stuff. Here it is again! The post will make you laugh and you'll learn some things about gorillas you didn't know! Curious yet? Heaven knows, you could use a laugh right about now. If you ask them questions, the kids aren't gonna tell you a thing. It's all part of their Secret Agent schtick. Don't take it personally.
Once kids start the quest toward total independence from you, they don't want you to be seen or heard EXCEPT when they want a ride to the mall, money for the movies or "cute shoes", keys to the car and oh yeah, college tuition. Nice, huh?
When they stop being the kid who tells you everything and trusts you completely, you'll have to change your style of extracting intel out of them. If you want the facts or their opinions or their intentions or their thoughts or their feelings about anything, you must take a different approach.
But how? They are so incredibly competent about not spilling their guts unless they are in complete meltdown mode.
First, establish that you can be trusted. Tell them you can be trusted to keep their confidences and do not impose your "stuff" on them. Tell them you can be an objective problem-solver who will pose options for them to consider. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT waiver from this position. Bite your tongue until it bleeds, but keep your stuff to yourself and unemotionally, evaluate the situations and offer solutions. Don't tell them. Don't lecture them. Start by changing your approach from the "kid" style of you telling them everything to the emerging adult style of "how can I help?/problem-solve". They'll notice that you've changed.
You know how teens can't get jobs because they have no experience and they can't get experience because no one will give them a job? Well, that's your position. You can't show them that you can be trusted because they won't give you a chance, so start with small stuff. Keep that up until you get really good at it. It's got to be automatic. One slip and you have to start over.
Second, if you have concerns about something going on, anchor those concerns in the context of movie themes, music, television shows, life events, anything that will focus them on the issue and not their specific situation. This means you need to familiarize yourself with some features of their world and their interests. This is one of the most powerful tools you have. It's called consensual validation. You've got to get into their world a bit. Not so much that it's weird. Remember, you're not "supposed to know" too much. You are their parent, not their friend. They may be your parent one of these days, but you'll won't be their friend. It doesn't work like that...
When a whole gaggle of other people have the same issue, it's easier not to get so nervous and jerky about stuff because, "Hey, I'm not the only one!" If one of the characters in their favorite show has an issue, an invitation to talk about it or at least pay attention to it might go like this..."If your friend had this issue, how would you help them?" You, of course, aren't really talking about their friend with an abusive boyfriend, but your own girl whose new boyfriend is showing unsettling signs of controlling her and she doesn't notice because she's had no experience with this stuff. Even if the issue is unrelated to them, start the "education" about possible options. When they see that you are not judgmental or afraid to discuss the issues, their opinion of you will change.
When they spend time with you, leave your judgmental opinions at home. This generation does not buy into judgment. It's what we've taught them, so walk the walk. Listen more and talk less. Be comfortable with silence (that's a tough one). Be less of a parent and more of an "ordinary" human. The more you interact with them in public, the more you can evaluate their "common sense" and ability to protect themselves or to gauge others. If you shop with them, you can see their taste; you can watch how they handle themselves in interactions. You can say, "What did you think about.....?" If they say they don't know, don't press it. Offer one or two ideas about what you want them to learn and leave it at that. We parents, especially us mothers, just talk w-a-a-a-y too much to our kids. We're wired for it and it was important when they were wee ones, but yakking on and on ain't gonna cut it with your teens.
Fourth, observe yourself critically. Go slowly and learn from your interactions. Decide how you can improve your "performance" next time. If you feel you have to "repair" any part of the outing, write your kid a BRIEF note and tell them you'll practice being less intrusive or judgmental or whatever. Remember, you are working on developing a different kind of relationship, a more adult relationship, with your teenager. "Uh oh. I should not have said that girl looked like a slut. That was not OK. I'll practice that kind of stuff next time."
Be a RAN parent...Receptive, Approachable and Nonjudgmental. It's your chance to give them the education they think they don't need and the one you know they absolutely have to have. Go get 'em...can you hear me cheering you on?