Are you having trouble communicating with your teen?
As a parent, you know that communication is key.
But your teenager may not be opening up to talk to you about day-to-day matters, much less difficult ones.
I coach teens for a living, so I often speak with parents who are struggling to find ways to open the lines of communication with their teens.
Communication can be complex, but the good news is that parenting teens is a skill that you can get better at.
(I’m a father of three myself, so I know there’s always room for me to improve as a parent!)
In this article, I’ll discuss the topic of how to talk to your teenagers so they’ll listen to you and behave responsibly.
Apply the tips below and your relationship with your teen will become stronger too!
11 tips for communicating with teenagers
How should I talk to my teenager?
If you find yourself asking this question, you’re in the right place.
Learning how to communicate with your teen is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. Here are some techniques you can use to improve how you and your teen talk to each other.
1. Lecture less, listen more
As a parent, it’s easy to fall into the routine of lecturing your teenagers.
After all, you have a lot of life experience and you want to share it with them. But studies have shown that long or angry lectures simply don’t work.
So find ways to actively engage with your teen. Ask them questions like:
- “Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”
- “What did you learn through this experience?”
- “How can I support you in this situation?”
Avoid saying things to your teen like:
- “What’s wrong with you?”
- “What were you thinking?”
By asking questions that engage your teen in a positive way, you’ll build a solid foundation of trust.
2. Break down communication barriers
A communication barrier will develop if you frequently nag, judge, or scold your teens.
When it comes to communication, emotional barriers prevent teens from feeling secure enough to talk about what’s going on in their lives.
For example, if you talk to your teenage daughter about changing her behaviour, don’t start the conversation by criticising her. Instead, empathise with her and make sure she feels safe opening up about her emotions.
If you want your teens to talk to you more, you must give them your attention. Listen to your teenagers without casting judgment, and avoid jumping in with unsolicited advice.
3. Don’t blame or shame your teen
When something goes wrong in your teen’s life, of course you want to help.
Teenagers will make mistakes, and that’s okay! It’s how they learn and gain wisdom.
When your teens come to you to talk, resist the urge to blame or shame them for whatever has happened.
Instead, be understanding and compassionate. Let your teenagers know that it’s okay that they made a mistake.
Help them to process their emotions and reflect on what they’ve learned through the situation.
By doing so, they’ll feel more comfortable sharing things with you.
4. Help your teen think things through
Too often, teenagers make impulsive decisions. It takes time and experience to understand that thinking things through leads to the best outcomes.
If you know or suspect that your teenager is struggling with a problem, check in to see what’s going on.
Whenever possible, help your teens to think through the situation so they can see things from a different perspective.
Over time, they’ll learn to do this on their own, which is a valuable skill they’ll be able to use for years to come.
5. Don’t let things escalate
As a parent, you’ll have tough days when the stress of everyday life gets to you.
At those times, it’s more likely that a conversation with your teen will result in a heated argument that hurts the relationship.
When the tension starts to rise, you could say something like:
- “I need some time to think about this.”
- “Let’s talk about this later, please. I need a bit of space to calm down.”
When you say things like that, you ensure that when you do sit down and talk with your teen, you’ll be able to have a calm discussion. This will show your teen that you care about and respect him or her.
6. Make it easy for your teen to engage with you
Is your teen withdrawn?
Sometimes, it’s hard for teens to talk to others about what’s happening in their lives because of a fear of being judged.
Keeping the lines of communication open is essential, especially during the teenage years of self-discovery.
Research has shown – not surprisingly – that when parents listen to their teens actively and attentively, their teens felt a greater sense of closeness, autonomy, and self-worth.
It’s challenging, but do your best to be that kind of parent to your teen every day!
7. Express empathy
Many teenagers feel as if no one understands what they’re going through.
This can cause them to feel lonely, anxious, or angry.
By communicating empathetically with your teen, you’re showing that you’re doing your best to understand how he or she feels.
When you say, “I know this seems unfair,” or “It must be frustrating to feel as if you don’t fit in,” you’re letting your teenager know that you’re trying to put yourself in his or her shoes.
Empathy is a healthy way to create understanding and deal with teenage attitude.
8. Refrain from using threats
Teenagers are developing their sense of identity apart from you, so it’s normal for them to test boundaries.
Your teens might say, “I’ll do it later,” when you’ve already made it clear that you need the chore done now.
As a parent, this is frustrating, and punishments or threats might seem like the most effective approach.
But threats rarely work, and only serve to damage the relationship you have with your teen.
What should you do instead?
Try communication strategies such as:
- Giving your teenagers choices whenever possible
- Connecting with them more and criticising them less
- Talking to them about their hobbies and interests
- Saying positive things to them every day
9. Be real with your teen
As a parent, you obviously want to have a great relationship with your teens. Don’t be afraid to tell them this.
Tell them that you love them, and show affection in the ways that they appreciate.
Rather than using “you” statements, which can feel accusatory, try using “I” statements that focus on how you feel.
Here’s an example:
- “You” statement: “You’re not working hard enough.”
- “I” statement: “I feel worried that you won’t do as well as you expect for the exam next week.”
And here’s one more example:
- “You” statement: “You never complete your chores.”
- “I” statement: “I really appreciate it when you complete your chores every day.”
To modify a quote by leadership expert Craig Groeschel: “Teens would rather follow a parent who is always real, rather than a parent who is always right.”
10. Apply active listening techniques
You may have heard of active listening before.
It’s the process of listening such that the other person feels heard and understood.
Active listening isn’t just about using specific techniques, but must come from a place of authenticity and empathy.
Make sure to really listen to what your teens are telling you by maintaining eye contact, asking clarifying questions, and using phrases like, “Tell me more.”
Nod periodically and keep your arms uncrossed. In this way, your teenagers will feel as if you’re fully present with them.
11. Focus on specific behaviours instead of making general statements
Avoid making general statements about what your teen is or isn’t doing that you’re concerned about.
For example, don’t tell your teens that they’re not managing their time well.
Instead, say that you noticed that they were on their phone for two hours straight after school. This is despite the fact that you know they have an incomplete project that’s due tomorrow.
When you focus on specific behaviours, your teenagers will be less likely to turn defensive.
You’ll then be able to work together with them to find an acceptable solution.
Everything worth doing in life requires effort and commitment.
It definitely requires lots of effort and commitment on your part to be able to communicate effectively with your teens.
But it’s worth it.
So I encourage you to start using the communication techniques listed in this article today!
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