Prevention Strategies for ParentsEffectively Communicating with Teens

Teen boy being comforted by his dad

Have you ever received a blank stare, a sigh, a shrug, or a look of complete boredom when you tried to talk to your teen? You are not alone!

As discussed in other sections, your teen is less likely to be resistant to more serious conversations if you both have made a habit of having regular conversations throughout their lives. To be clear, this section does not refer to times when you need to speak with your teen immediately. Rather, this information is shared to help your teen open up to topics that are not considered emergencies.

Keep in mind that resistance to talking is normal for teens, and usually a sign of healthy development and growing independence. Figuring out how to make room for your teen’s independence and limit-testing can require a lot of patience and practice.

Navigating Difficult Conversations with Your Teen

How to Start a Conversation with Your Teen

It can be difficult to find the right time and approach to reach your teen, below are a few tips to get you started.

When

It’s important not to talk with your teen when emotions are running high. In these instances, suggest that you and your teen to take a cool down period before you have a conversation can make all the difference. Make a habit of talking with your teen daily about day-to-day topics or current events– it can help your teen feel more at ease when it’s time to discuss more serious topics.

Where

Teens may open up more if you have a conversation in a comfortable environment. A great place to have a conversation with your teen is in the car or while walking side-by-side. This allows your teen to express their thoughts without feeling the pressure of direct eye contact.

Do you talk to your teen in person? This is a personal decision. If not, you may consider communicating with them via text. It seems to be the norm for teens to communicate with their peers this way, and while it should not be your only form of contact, it is something to consider.

What

Try asking open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a “yes,” “no,” “good,” or “I don’t know.” Avoid talking too much without asking for their thoughts, so your teen doesn’t feel they’re being lectured. Listening in a nonjudgmental way without interruption may be more important than what you say. Don’t forget you can use humor! Not all conversations with your teen have to be serious.

Talking Points & Tips

Here are some open-ended questions you can ask your teen:

  • What was the best/worst part of your day today?
  • Tell me about something that happened at school today.
  • Tell me about the best YouTube video or snapchat you’ve seen today.
  • I heard [share a news or other story] on the news today. [Tell them what you think about it]. What do you think?

How to Respond to Difficult Questions

Eventually your teen will ask a question that you find embarrassing or that you don’t have the answer to. You do not need to have a perfect response each time. It’s fine to say “let me think about it and we can talk about it later.” Try not to overreact or dismiss your teen’s feelings – it’s important to know how your teen feels and why they feel that way – this allows you to validate their feelings and remind them that you are open to any of their questions.

Talking Points & Tips

Support and reassure your teen’s choice to ask you a difficult question. You can say:

  • I’m glad you asked me.
  • I bet that was hard for you to ask me.
  • I’m happy you felt you could talk to me about…
  • That’s an important question, here’s what I know/think about it…
  • I’m not sure I know the answer. But let’s talk about it, and I can find out the answer for you.
  • It can be hard for me to talk about … because …, but
  • I’ll do my best to answer you.

What to Do if Your Teen Won’t Talk

It can be upsetting when your teen won’t talk to you that we forget to try and figure out why your teen is resistant to talking. Ask yourself if you have addressed them in a respectful and open way, and if you have shown your listening skills in previous conversations. Then choose your battles – many teens like to feel as though they have some control – is it possible to allow them to choose the time and place for the conversation?

Talking Points & Tips

Take a few minutes to sit with your teen and show interest in something they’re reading or watching. You can say something like, “I see why you like that – it’s interesting!” This can help build some common ground and get you both talking.

If you want to talk to your teen directly about why they aren’t talking to you, you can say:

  • It seems like you don’t want to talk with me, but it’s important that we do. So, can you choose a time between now and [choose a deadline] and commit to being open to talking then?
  • You look as if you don’t want to hear what I have to say, and it feels like you don’t want to talk about [ name what they don’t want to talk about]. Is there something else you’d rather talk about first?
  • Can you help me understand what’s going on for you at the moment?
  • How are you doing right now?

This can also be a good opportunity to learn about, and use, “I feel” statements. Learn more about this from the Peaceful Parent Institute.

How to be a Better Listener

Any successful communication depends on the ability to listen – this is especially true when it comes to communicating with your teen, because teens often feel that the adults in their lives don’t listen to or don’t understand them. The more we listen to what our teens are saying, the more we’ll learn about them and the more open they’ll be to sharing!

According to parenting website, Raising Children, active listening is a skill that should be cultivated. Active listening is to:

  1. Give your full attention to your teen (no multitasking or texting)
  2. Allow your teen to talk without interruption
  3. Focus on what your teen is saying, rather than trying to figure out what you’re going to say next
  4. Make eye contact with your teen
  5. Show your teen, you’re interested in what they have to say by nodding your head and making comments like “I see,” or “That sounds difficult,” and so on

Listening isn’t the same as agreeing. You can understand and respect your teen’s point of view without agreeing with it.

Talking Points & Tips

It’s important when being a good listener to use reflection skills to show your teen that you are listening. You can do this by repeating back what your teen said to make sure you understand, or using summary questions:

  • I think I heard you say…
  • It sounds like you think…
  • It seems like you feel…
  • I’m not sure I’m following you, help me to understand.

It’s also good to ask your teen how they feel about your listening skills.

  • Do you think I’m a good listener? What could I do to be a better listener?

Here are some resources about being an active listener with your teen: