(I originally wrote this article for youth workers, but it applies to anyone who has to communicate with a teenage boy, from pros to parents.)
1. Gather over food. Gather in small groups of just a few boys.
2. Use the “60 Second Rule:” Ask your question in 15 seconds and then wait for the answer for 45 seconds.
3. Use sideways conversations such as working side by side at a service project, in the passenger seat of a car or washing dishes after a fundraiser.
4. Put something in their hands. Our office is filled with toys, sports balls and magazines. Boys who are busy with their hands talk easier, even if they don’t look you in the eye all the time.
5. Go outside. Many times, leaders do too many conversations indoors. Grab a basketball and go outside. Go for a walk around the block. Take the whole group.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask emotional questions. But be ready for the answer to take several sessions to get back to you. Be patient.
7. Never take “I don’t know” as the first answer. Rephrase the question in fewer words. If that does not work, see number six above.
8. Before doing discussion sessions, write out the questions on paper and let the boys read them before you start the discussion.
9. Know what interests the boys you work with and talk about those things frequently: science, sports, music, computer and others.
10. Learn to use non face-to-face methods such as Email and Instant Messaging to build rapport and trust with boys between formal events.
Sean Buvala has worked with youth and families since 1985. He’s a professional storyteller and the author of the DaddyTeller book, which teaches dads to tell stories to their children. Sean says, “If you want your teen boy to talk to you at 14, you had better start telling him stories at 4.”