How to Communicate with Your Teen…”Yes, It Can Be Better!”

It is not unusual at all for teens to speak to their parents with one-word answers. “Where are you going?” “Places.” “When will you be back?” “Sometime.” “Who will you be with?” “People.” It’s true. Teens can be very challenging to communicate with. On the flip side, the benefits of good communication are quite amazing. Having an open relationship, hearing from your teen when they are scared or angry, and being a part of your teens important decisions are deeply rewarding experiences.

In my work with teens and parents over the last fifteen years, the most common communication mistake I see made by parents is the failure to truly listen. Seventy-four percent of moms say that their teens feel comfortable coming to them about almost anything. But only a little more than half of kids agree.

As a rule, teens who are not listened to respectfully, do not listen to their parents. Listening involves attending both to the content of your teen’s dialog and the emotional subtext beneath the drama. Often what teenagers are really trying to say is, “I’m scared,” “I’m confused,” or “I’m afraid you’re disappointed in me.”

Communication can always be improved. The following steps are fundamental to good communication:

  • Choose a good time.
  • Speak in a calm and respectful tone, with a spirit of goodwill toward your teen.
  • Ask good questions (specific: “What did Lisa do when…….?” And general: “If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?”)
  • Listen patiently. This involves listening to your teen speak without interrupting, judging, or criticizing. Allow your teen to express himself or herself completely.
  • Listen closely to how your teen feels about their relationship with you. If they feel hurt or treated unfairly be sure to validate their feelings even if you didn’t intend to hurt them.
  • Reassure them of your care, unconditional love, commitment, their importance to you.
  • Allow your teen to solve their own problems (as much as possible).

Communicating well is a skill that must be developed. It is important to create opportunities to communicate. Eating together, shooting baskets together, driving together all create opportunities for knowing your teen. If communication with your teen is poor, consider utilizing therapy as a forum to repair and deepen your relationship. The long-term effects of good communication (your teen’s self-confidence, independence, ability to get along with others) are priceless!