Talking with Teens
By: Madeleine Stobbe, RCT-C, CCC
Adolescence can be a challenging time for both teens and families. It’s a time of not only physical changes, but cognitive, social, and emotional development as well. This may take the form of spending more time with friends and less time with family, pushing boundaries, and experimenting with new behaviours. For some families this can mean increased tension and conflict within the home or an increase in isolation or withdrawal by their teen. One of the most important ways a parent can address these challenges is to maintain a healthy parent-teen relationship through effective communication. What follows are some helpful tips for parents looking for ways to improve communication with their teen.
Make Time to Talk
Sometimes teens won’t approach a parent when something is bothering them as they find it difficult to start a conversation. You can help by making time to talk to and spend time with your teen. Try to find a consistent time each week specifically for this purpose, whether it is sitting down to talk or doing an activity together that your teen enjoys.
Help Them to Feel Safe
Some teens may automatically think that if you are sitting them down to talk that they must be in trouble. Let them know your intention for talking with them, whether you have noticed a change in their behaviour, or you want to spend time together and get to know them better. Rather than asking closed-ended questions (How was school today?), ask open ended questions or statements which give your teen a chance to express themselves (Tell me about the presentation you gave today). If you are confused by something they said, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify (What did you mean when you said…?). This way of asking questions helps teens feel more understood.
Be an Active Listener
It is important to be an active listener when your teen is talking. Try to remain open-minded and focus on what they are saying, both verbally and non-verbally. This helps your teen feel more comfortable and valued, which in turn can lead to increased trust. Remember that this is an opportunity to listen to what your teen is saying, rather than offer advice or lecture. Avoid using critical language (i.e. dumb, stupid) and resist urges to yell or argue.
Respect Their Perspective
How you may see a problem is much different than how your teen views the same problem. To an adult, a problem such as a disagreement with a friend may seem trivial, but to the developing teenage brain, it is a crisis. Sometimes parents will make the mistake of minimizing the problem (It’s not that bad) or passing judgment (What a silly thing to get upset over) which can cause teens to feel misunderstood and insecure. Try to remain open-minded and encourage them to talk about what they find distressing about this situation. By respecting your teen and encouraging them to talk about situations they find upsetting or stressful, you are modeling healthy communication and providing them with a safe place to explore their problems.
Healthy communication takes time and practice. It may take several attempts at engaging with your teen before they are ready or willing to talk. Try not to become discouraged if your teen rejects your initial attempts and remember that trust and respect take time to build. It is important to remain patient and consistent by continuing to let your teen know that you are available and interested in talking with them.