It may seem like kids these days speak a whole different language. They have been raised in the 2000’s- the era of Facebook, texting, and Instagram. However, just like teens have always been for centuries, the last people they seem to want to talk to are their parents. This can make it doubly hard to figure out how to talk to your teen about important issues, day to day life, feelings, etc.

The teen years can be the hardest to navigate emotionally as parents, and for the teen themselves. It is a time of growth and individuation. Your child may all of a sudden like dying their hair pink, wearing crop tops, and proclaim that “music is life”. All teens rebel, sometimes in small ways such as insisting that leggings are pants, or in big ways like doing drugs and sneaking out. The purpose this serves is to help them separate their identity from their parents. This is an essential time in the lifespan to establish good communication habits with your child.

Here are ten tips for talking to your teen:

  1. Talk on their terms. You might prefer to talk face-to-face or at least on your phone, but for a teen today texting is usually the most comfortable medium of communication. Try texting your teen when it’s time for dinner, or asking them when they’ll be home.
  2. Be cool, but not TOO cool. It can help to make an effort to learn the slang kids use or the things they are interested in order to better understand and communicate with them. However do not go overboard and text your teen “OMG LOL SMH”, or go up to their group of friends and say “what’s crackin’!” Remember that you are their parent, not their friend.
  3. Use open-ended questions. Ask questions that must be answered by more than just a simple yes, no, or one-word answer. If given the opportunity, teens will use the fewest words possible when they are avoiding conversation. Ask questions like, “what do you see yourself doing after high school?” or “how do you feel about what happened to your friend?”
  4. Don’t quiz. You wouldn’t like it if you felt like someone was interrogating you- so don’t do that to your teen. It may seem like they are keeping things from you, and maybe they are, but as children get older they will require more privacy. As long as you aren’t concerned about anything bad happening, keep the quizzing to a minimum. Laying off the questions may actually allow your teen to open up.
  5. Bring up topics they are interested in. Engage them in a discussion about the TV show they are following, the game they play with their friends, or their favorite hobby.
  6. Don’t pontificate. Obviously you do know more than your child does, because you are an adult with more life experience. But teens don’t think that- they often think they know better and that their parents just don’t understand. Try to show that you do understand where they are coming from and that you aren’t telling them advice because you think you know better, but because you love them.
  7. Don’t lecture. It will go in one ear and out the other. Your teen will likely stop listening after the first two minutes of a lecture. Get to the point and make it short and sweet.
  8. Talk while doing activities. Take a bike ride, play a game of basketball, or join your teen in their favorite video game. Take these opportunities to chat. The parallel process of doing an activity while talking helps kids be more open and honest.
  9. Use active listening. Show your child that you are listening by looking at them, giving nonverbal cues, and reflecting back what they have said to you. Knowing that they are being heard helps teens, and anyone really, feel safe opening up. Empathize with their emotions and do not downplay them, even if they seem silly to you.
  10. Remain non-judgmental. Don’t make fun of the way that your teen dresses or wears their hair, or the people they hang out with and activities they do for fun. You may be thinking to yourself that one day they will regret that mohawk, but what would be the point in saying that? Instead, validate your teen’s choices for what they are- stabs at individuality.

If you’re experiencing high conflict with your teen and having a lot of difficulty with communication, perhaps it is time to consider family therapy. Symmetry Counseling is here to help.

Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT