Communicating with your teenager

Your teenager is going through massive changes – they’re figuring out who they are, what they stand for, who they love, and what they want out of life. Their hopes and dreams might be very different to what you’d imagined for them.

Part of helping your young person develop into an independent adult is respecting their choices – providing support and guidance, but also space for them to work things out for themselves. This means the way you communicate together also has to change – and this shift is often just as hard for parents and guardians as it is for young people.

Top tips for communicating with your teen

  • Make talking part of your routine. Make time to chat with your teenager about their day and what they’ve been doing. Try to start conversations with them at times when they appear most open to chatting. If your young person wants to share something, give them your full attention and listen without judgement.
  • Be a good listener. As a general rule of thumb, listen twice as much as you speak. Let them give their perspective before jumping in with advice.
  • Ask open, curious questions…not loaded ones. This gives your young person confidence that any issues are theirs to solve. Being judgmental – either in what you’re saying or your tone – is one of the quickest ways to shut down a conversation and get your teen on the defensive. Examples of open questions might be “What were you hoping would happen?” “How do you feel about what did happen?” “What ideas do you have for what to do next?” ”What can we take from this for next time?”
  • Let your young person talk about whatever interests them. Show respect for their opinions, even if you disagree with them.
  • Show affection. Your teenager might threaten to dissolve in a puddle of embarrassment every time you show affection, especially in public. But it’s important to keep showing affection and telling your teens you love them and how much they mean to you – even if it’s met with a monosyllabic grunt.
  • Reinforce that you’re there for them whenever they need it and that they can talk to you about anything, even difficult issues.
  • Respect their privacy. Have sensitive discussions in a quiet space; ask if there’s a good time to talk; don’t barge into their room uninvited. 

When things get tough

Relationships between parents, guardians or carers and young people can become strained at times. Conflict and tension can develop, and open lines of communication may be broken. It’s also quite common for young people to avoid parents or guardians when things get difficult, closing loved ones off from their life and problems.

Your young person may not always want to turn to you for help, but it’s important not to give up and keep reinforcing that you’re there for them.

  • Be persistent. Continue to try and talk to your young person to find out what’s bothering them.
  • Reinforce the message that you care. Let your young person know that you’re concerned and are there to help.
  • Be understanding – even if you don’t agree or even quite comprehend where they’re coming from. This will help your young person feel validated.
  • Try to connect with your young person in the best way you can. This might mean involving other family members or friends who can help.
  • Change it up – if you feel you’re not getting anywhere, try a different approach. If you’re hard, try softer. If you’re soft, try be more firm.
  • Give your young person hope that there are solutions to their problems.
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