Eight Tips for Communicating More Effectively with Teenagers

By Lily Hwang

“You never listen to me! Why do you always say no to everything?! This is why I don’t want to speak to you!”

Does this sound familiar? Are you a parent struggling with your adolescent? Welcome to one of the most challenging levels of parenting: the puberty stage. During this time, your children will most likely go through some physical, emotional, and psychological changes. As a result, you may begin to see changes in the dynamic of your relationship with your adolescent. “I was so close to them but I don’t know what happened.” “I try to listen and allow them to share their opinions, but they don’t want to talk to me anymore.”

Many parents often complain that no matter how hard they try, their teenagers refuse to speak to them. But, are you really listening to them? If this has been a problem for you, here are eight tips on how to communicate more effectively with your teenagers.

1. Be a Personal Audience

If your kids are already sharing some of the details of their lives with you, you are ahead of the game. Show genuine interest and react to their stories with questions and compliments. Show them that you are interested in learning about their personal life stories. The moment they sense that you are apathetic or distracted, they may stop talking and walk out. Don’t let them shut you out because of what they may see as a lack of interest. Be a “host of a talk show” and treat them as though they are your special guests!

2. Try More Listening, and Less Talking

One common mistake parents make when speaking to their teenagers is talking too much. Your kids come to talk to you about an issue that they may be dealing with. After listening for a few minutes, you see where the story is going. In this situation, what might you do? You may feel the urge to cut them off and offer advice to end the conflict. However, what’s more important at this point is for you to give them your undivided attention and listen to what they have to say. Focus less on what your thoughts are, and more on what your kids want to share with you. Then, after they have finished, may be a more appropriate time to say something.

3. Validate Their Emotions

After listening to what your kids are saying, it’s time to understand and validate your children’s feelings. Asking how they felt during a situation, or acknowledging their emotions, can help them feel heard and validated. When they do something wrong, instead of saying, “Why did you do that? You are so immature!” how about, “What made you decide to do that?” Or, “Were you angry at something?” Before you scold them for their wrongdoings, try to understand what they’re experiencing, identify their underlying emotions, and give them a chance to explain their reasoning.

4. Find Common Interest

In order to build trust and rapport, it would be helpful to spend more time with each other. Find activities that you can enjoy together. During the teenage years, your kids will most likely want to spend the majority of their time with close friends. So don’t be discouraged if they push you out! Keep trying! Start by searching for just one thing that will help you connect with your kids.

5. Adapt to Their Ways of Communication

Some parents think that they should only speak to their children face-to-face. But what if they want to be alone? What if they feel awkward speaking to you in person? Your kids are growing up in a society with highly advanced technology. In addition to the typical text messages, teens use popular communication apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook to express and share things about themselves. Consider learning how to navigate through these apps, and interacting with them using their preferred ways of communication.

6. Make Decisions Together

Don’t be a dictator! It’s important to set healthy boundaries but no teenager wants to have a parent who is a control freak. Allow your children to share their opinions and preferences with you. This does not mean that they get to do whatever they want. You are still in charge of setting the rules. But give them the opportunity to express what they’d prefer before making a decision. Discussions are better than unilateral decisions.

7. Dinner is Ready! Eat, Laugh, and Talk

What is the one meal that you can share together as a family? Probably, dinner. It is the last meal of the day and the perfect way for each of you to share a little something about your day. While you are eating, start a casual conversation with your kids and check on how they are doing. Talk to them about how your day was and ask them about their day at school. Try to ask “open-ended questions” (e.g., What activity did you do today that you enjoyed the most?”) rather than “closed-ended questions” (e.g., “How was school?” or “Did you have a good day?”) Make it a habit to talk about everyday things with each other to stay connected as a family.

8. Consider Family Therapy

If things continue to be difficult, you may want to discuss the option of attending family therapy and seeking professional help from a counselor. Family therapy can be used to improve communication between family members and resolve conflicts. Together, you can set family goals and work together with the therapist to understand your family dynamic, develop and maintain healthier relationships and boundaries, and reduce conflicts through more meaningful conversations.

As you can probably tell, communication is the key to healthy parent-child relationships. With teenagers, it is important to create a safe space for them to express their thoughts and feel validated and heard. Respect their opinions and listen to them with genuine interest. Try some of the strategies discussed in this article and see how it may open up new opportunities to stay connected with your adolescents.

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