When your child was younger, they probably loved talking to you.
Every new discovery, every scrap with friends or siblings, and every question was taken up with you.
They needed your comfort and advice.
Now that your child has entered the teenage phase, suddenly this fountain of communication isn’t
flowing at all anymore!
And when you try to initiate talking to them, all you get is a cold shoulder, a clipped response, or a full
fledged attack that turns your attempt of communicating into yet another battle.
The Quest for Independent Thinking and Self-Identity
The teenage years are a time of growth for your child’s brain on the way to adulthood. To test out the
waters, so to speak, teens typically want more freedom to try handling situations on their own.
Honing independent thinking skills is a normal step in life and helps your child learn to make decisions
based on their perception and reasoning. Of course, you know it takes time to hone perceptive and
reasoning skills and make good choices. And you understand that your teen would benefit from your
support and advice to become a responsible adult.
The problem is that your child’s quest for more freedom and independence often brings about a sort of
tug-of-war that can cause friction. You feel your teen is asking for too much freedom, and they feel
you’re trying to micromanage their life and hinder the development of their self-identity.
Thus, while your teen is contending with the complex issues of life, they’re also contending with your
influence over them. And that is not conducive to communicating well.
What can you do?
4 Keys for Successful Communication with Your Teen
Productive conversations are guided by four basic components.
Key #1: Invite open discussion through casual chats, good timing, and brevity
Seek out informal situations to have casual chats. Try initiating chats with your teen during
moments when they are relaxed. Any situation where you’re not face-to-face but perhaps side-by-side
can be more conducive to a productive talk. Think about taking advantage of a walk together, working
on a chore together, or riding in the car.
Consider the right time and style. Some teens are more chatty in the morning, others can’t bring a
word out until the afternoon. Some like a lively discussion back and forth, others need time to let go of a
flood of information before you reply. Pay attention to how your teen likes to converse.
Keep it short and sweet. You’ll get much farther when you avoid the long-winded speeches and,
instead, just state your point and give your teen a chance to ponder on it. Don’t forget to look for
opportunities to give praise. Teens may act like they don’t care about what you think, but they need your
approval just as much as when they were younger.
Key #2: Listen attentively, without prying, whenever you have the opportunity
Listen carefully without interrupting. As parents, we can be too quick to jump in with suggestions on
how to fix something or corrections to our children’s viewpoints. It’s important that you allow enough
time to listen so that you can understand the full scope of what your child is saying. This will help you to
emphatic, flexible, and reasonable once it’s time for you to reply.
Resist prying. Asking direct questions about their life is often not conducive to a successful
conversation with a teen. If you want to know what’s going on, avoid pressuring them for information,
but rather, stay open and interested when listening.
Create opportunities to listen without a specific focus on anything personal. There are many ways
you can make it easier for your teen to chat while you just listen. Why not spend regular time together
enjoying positive experiences, such as cooking, baking, hiking, going to the movies, or sitting together for
regular meals and casual dinner conversations (sans phones!).
Key #3: Stay calm and look beyond the obvious to validate your teen’s feelings
Control your emotions, rather than overreact. Even if your teen is being rude, remember not to
respond in kind. You’re still the adult, and you can take the lead to set the overall tone of the
conversation. Take a deep breath and try to see beyond the attitude. Sometimes it may be good to pause
and allow you both to calm down.
Validate your teen’s feelings. Trying to solve a child’s problem or downplay their disappointment is a
natural tendency of parents. It’s meant to help, not harm. But saying things like, “You shouldn’t worry
about that,” can feel dismissive. Instead, try reflecting your child’s feelings to show that you empathize
and understand by saying, “I can see how difficult that was for you.”
Key #4: Give guidance but let your teen take responsibility for solutions
Guide and give advice, but don’t dictate. As noted at the outset, your teen is trying to develop their
independent thinking skills and self-identity requires thinking the situation over and having the chance
to brainstorm solutions. You can help by giving thoughtful input and advice based on your experiences.
But resist imposing your ideas on them or dictating how they should handle something. That will only
kill the flow of communication.
Stand by your teen and show trust. Once you’ve given your advice and guidance, allow your child to
take the responsibility to handle the matter. More than anything, teens want to be taken seriously by
their parents. Showing faith in your child can boost their confidence and encourages them to rise to the
occasion. In turn, it builds their trust in your guidance and reassures them that talking to you is valuable.
If you would like more information on how to parent a teen, please feel free to contact us. We would be
happy to share our expertise.