Behaviour & Emotions

Tennis, talking and teens

Parenting Place teens and talking 2

One of my kids recently took an interest in tennis. This is great, because I really like tennis. I’m not good at it, but I do enjoy it. So now we head down to our local tennis court when we have a spare 30 minutes and practise some quite-average-but-we’re-getting-better hitting of the ball over the net. I do most of the serving, hers are still pretty wild; and we keep it to ‘friendlies’. But more and more, the serves are returned and we get into a decent rally.

Just like a game of tennis between two amateurs, talking with teens can be a bit hit and miss. Some serves are received well, and back comes the ball right into your side of the court where you can give it an easy lob back without even having to run or dive. Other times the return has more punch; perhaps it heads for an awkward corner of the court, perhaps it gets tangled in the net, perhaps it’s even whacked on the full and the ball flies over the boundary fence and disappears into the long grass of the neighbouring paddock.

Wow, this tennis metaphor stretches further than I thought. But here’s the simple point – keep serving. Your serves won’t always result in a lovely satisfying rally, and sometimes they won’t be returned at all. But keep serving.

Your serves won’t always result in a lovely satisfying rally, and sometimes they won’t be returned at all. But keep serving. 

Not the Grand Slam

Keep it light, lower expectations and reduce the pressure. This definitely isn’t Wimbledon. (There’s an adjacent paddock with long grass and 100 lost tennis balls for one thing.) The goal in talking to our teens is not to educate and inspire them with all our hard-won wisdom, although that may be a by-product. The goal of talking to our teens is connection.

I know that I tend to put some pretty big expectations on talks with my teens. But when I look back on the day, it’s the little moments of fun, jokes and even throw-away comments that have actually kept us the most connected. Short text messages just to check in, or sharing memes, relatable GIFs or emojis (usually I get sent that lady with her palm to her face) – these actually say a lot, without having to say much at all. And so easy – especially for an over-thinker like me.

Server advantage

Incidental moments of connection can be the most powerful. Some of my best conversations with our teens happen in the car when I'm driving them to and from all the things we drive them to and from. It’s less intimidating in the car – they can look out the window and avoid awkward eye contact if need be. Sometimes I do most of the talking and they’re just quiet, other times they start offloading some pretty significant stuff. I love those moments, but I also have to remind myself that the quiet is fine too. On any given day there are times when I don’t feel like talking, so I try and extend the same grace to my girls – without jumping to the conclusion that their silence means they’re focused on finding the safest moment to exit a moving vehicle.

Sometimes I do most of the talking and they’re just quiet, other times they start offloading some pretty significant stuff.

Sharing something from personal experience can also make for a great serve. Making ourselves vulnerable and admitting our failures and mistakes – actually letting our kids into our world. If we’re willing to let our teens into parts of our life that they previously may not have thought about (or that we’ve not owned up to!), we create some space to share honest, real-life experience.

And be ready for whenever your teen serves to you. There’s a high chance it won’t always be convenient. They might catch you tying your shoelace or taking a breather on the court-side bench, but jump to it and return that serve. A ball often lands in my court when I’ve really got my heart set on saying a quick goodnight and heading to bed myself. However, if this is when our kids want to talk, I try to pick up my racket and make the most of the invitation. (Sorry, I think I may have stretched the metaphor to the limit now…)

Tennis starts with love

Okay, some final tennis puns to wrap up...

Remember, in both tennis and conversation with your teen, the most important thing is to keep your eye on the ball and make sure that you return as many serves, volleys, forehands and backhands as you possibly can. Basically, you want to keep the ball and the conversation in motion. And if for whatever reason the rally comes to an end, that’s okay. Love-all is a great place to start a new rally.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.


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