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How Do I Give Advice to a Teenager?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified

 Adults have valuable information and life experiences that can benefit teenagers. Yet, teens often struggle to appreciate, absorb, and implement the advice they receive from adults. If you want to give a teen advice, consider these strategies to improve the chances that the teen will act on it.

Ask for Permission

Imagine this: A friend sends you a text that reads, “You should read this,” and a link to an article titled, “How to Lose Weight Fast.” How would you feel?  For one thing, this advice was unsolicited, and therefore you may be less likely to accept it. Teenagers are similar in that they are more likely to listen and consider advice that is not forced upon them. It’s important to ask a teen if they’d like to receive advice before you provide it. If the teen does not want advice, ask if there is another way that you can assist them or provide support.

Avoid Comparisons

In an effort to relate to teens, you may want to discuss your childhood. Resist this temptation, as this is the easiest way to get a teen to ignore your advice. Your teenage life was very different from that of teens today who are exposed to different technology and cultural influences to name a few. Teens live in a world that is in many respects drastically different from the one that earlier generations had to navigate, and they know it. So, unless the teen has asked you to discuss your childhood experiences, it’s best not to try to use them in order to relate to a teen. 

Avoid using these phrases:

  •     “When I was your age…”
  •     “Back in my day…”
  •     “I used to….”
  •     “When I….. it worked for me”

Ask Questions

Adults lack knowledge of many aspects of teenage life today, such as pop culture, slang terms, school culture, and socialization. If you do not have adequate knowledge of something related to a teen, admit it. Ask the teen questions before you consider providing any advice. You might find that you cannot give advice, but that’s ok, and admitting your limitations is better than providing advice about something you cannot truly speak to.

Here are a few questions that you can ask teens.

  •     “Why are so many people vaping?”
  •     “What happens when a student doesn’t get along with a teacher?”
  •     “What’s virtual school really like?”
  •     “How often does virtual bullying occur?”

Provide Options 

Teenagers need to feel as if they have some agency in their lives. The more a teen feels involved and empowered, the more likely they are to take your advice. You can help them feel empowered by providing advice with options. 

Here are some suggestions for dispensing advice while including options:

  • You can talk to your friend now, let them come to you, or give them time and approach them later. Which do you think would be better?
  • How about these ideas: You can ask your teacher for help, ask a fellow student for help, or I can tutor you until your grade improves. Which do you think is best?
  • Since you’re feeling lonely, what if you invited one friend over his weekend and the other friend the next weekend? Or you could also see if they both want to come over this weekend?

Make sure only to provide options that are in tune with the guidance you wish to provide. For example, if you don’t believe that being tutored by a fellow student is good advice, then you shouldn’t present this option. Dr. Lisa Dormour suggests that when you provide options, you should avoid weighing in on those options. She writes, “When teenagers seek out our advice, it can be hard to resist voicing an opinion. But an opinion may not be the most helpful response” (Dormour, 2018). Remember, the long-term goal is for teens to be able to make good choices on their own.

If you need help communicating with the teens in your life, consider participating in individual or family therapy. Contact Symmetry Counseling to make an appointment.

Dormour, L (2018, Dec 19) How to Wrap Advice as a Gift a Teenager Might Open. The New York Times.

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