I think sometimes teenagers get a bad rap. Being a teenager is a tough job. There’s so much pressure to be more like an adult when they’re often reminded that they aren’t.
They deal with a myriad of hormones, a school load to rival most colleges, jobs, family life, relationships, the list goes on. That’s a lot to juggle. Most adults don’t even work as hard as a teenager is expected to and we likely have most of our life choices already figured out where they’re just beginning.
I think we adults just forget what it was like to live in that fast lane of shifting cars and changing scenery. Which means, if we are frustrated with how things are going with our relationship with our teenagers, chances are there’s a communication problem.
And that’s good news! Because that can always be worked on.
How to Talk to Your Teenager so They Will Listen
There are a myriad of acclaimed experts that can teach far better than me on the parent/child relationship, but while you’re here, maybe my straightforward advice of proven techniques will resonate with you in some way.
We are all on this parenting journey of surviving adolescence, and I think we can all agree we want lasting relationships with our kids during the teenage years and beyond.
These are some tips I’ve watched better parents than me utilize in their own family and have helped us through some tough issues and strengthened communication during the inevitable stresses of teen life.
1. Listen First
For a large portion of our kid’s lives, we do most of the talking. We spend years instructing and (as my middle teen likes to point out) throwing life lessons into every situation.
But now that we have budding adults in our homes, they need a chance to speak, too. They need to be heard.
I know that these young people will always be “our babies”, but not recognizing that they are maturing and growing into their own, will strain the relationship.
So when they talk, we need to listen. Even if they are just talking about their day, the drama at school or how they feel about current events, listening validates them and builds a bridge.
2. Give Them Your Attention
Don’t you hate it when you try to talk to someone and they keep glancing at their phone or worse yet, completely turn from you mid-conversation to talk to someone else?
I have a couple friends who do this, not out of rudeness, they’re just distracted easily. But I can tell you that I don’t put a lot of effort into talking with those friends often, even though I know I’ve been guilty of it myself.
As for most parents, we do this to our kids more often then we care to admit. We might not even realize we’re doing it.
But think about it, we almost always have our phone in our hands. If we get a text or a call while our teen is talking to us, do we let them finish what they are saying or do we stop them to take the call?
This quote convicted me in a big way when I read it. Because I never want my teens to say, “Oh, I can’t talk to my mom, she won’t listen”.
Yet, I was setting the stage for that scenario to take place with all the distractions I let come between us. Now it’s something I try to work on every day. Most especially, setting my phone down when they want to talk.
3. Respect Their Point-of-View
I think parent’s biggest struggle in this transition stage is being humble enough to listen to what teenagers have to say when it comes to opinions. Because there’s a chance their point may have more merit than our own and that can be a hard pill to swallow.
We as parents are always trying to keep things running smoothly, we have our systems down and expect our way to be followed. Questioning the way we do things doesn’t tend to earn any brownie points for our teen kids but they are learning the way the world works and we get to help shape their minds.
Since I don’t react well to differing opinions, especially when I don’t have time for a dialogue, I try to ask my daughters their thoughts on matters when time allows for me to listen and contemplate their opinion.
Each of my daughters have strengths in different areas so I try to include their opinions in those areas whenever they come up. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised with their suggestions.
Many times their way made more sense or saved time. And sometimes my way is better. But if time allows, I try to at least give their suggestions an honest attempt. That little bit of respect goes a long way in their book.
4. Opening up Begins With You
I am a very transparent person, but when it comes to my children, that is something I have had to work on. When they were toddlers, I felt almost stuck in “mom mode”, rarely deviating or letting my guard down.
But when they hit Jr High/High School, I knew that had to change or I was going to push them away. They needed a mom who could talk through advice without being preachy. Someone who was real with them, got down in the trenches, so to speak.
I learned that effective communication went a long way towards warding off negative behavior. They have feelings about everything and those feelings can trigger the wrong emotion if we aren’t handling them properly.
Even if it doesn’t look like it, our teens value our opinion of them probably more than they ever have. That doesn’t mean we need to dole out enthusiastic praise, just be detailed, heartfelt and honest.
Being open with our praise, our admiration, even our struggles, will open doors like never before. I praise my girls more now than I ever did when they were toddlers. Probably because it took that long for me to be comfortable with it.
But that transparency has done wonders for our relationship and strengthened their mental health in noticeable ways.
Ways to Encourage Your Teen
- Write a letter listing the things you love about them
- When they do a project, point out what you like most
- After they finish a chore, thank them
- When they do something without being told, say something
- Before starting a project ask their thoughts on it
- Put them in charge of something and brag on them
- Look for ways to encourage their strong suits
- Open up about something you struggled with at their age
- Brag on them in public
- Be affectionate every day
- Tell them you love them
5. Show Your Interest
We are all busy, especially as our children get older. But that’s all the more reason to carve out some time to talk.
My oldest has a couple months left before she can get her license so I’m trying to soak up our rides to and from school while I still have them. Because that’s when my girls open up the most. They will literally talk my ear off.
But I love it. They have so much to say and if I genuinely listen, they will keep talking, which is what I want. But I don’t just listen, I encourage them to talk more by asking questions to further the conversation.
I want to know what they think about the topic we are discussing. (We can learn so much about our teens when they talk!) I ask them to explain some things further or ask about their friends thoughts, too.
The more I show my interest the more I’m genuinely interested and our kids know the difference. They won’t open up if they feel we are just placating. They need to know they matter to us.
6. Listen More than Talk
This is a struggle because when our kids talk to us, we want to help them solve their problems but sometimes, they just want to be heard. (I think most women can relate to this…)
And for a mom who “has to throw in a life lesson”, it’s hard to just listen. But our kids will tell us if they want more than that. They will ask us if/when they want advice, then we can give our hard-earned two cents worth.
This is especially difficult with the hard topics like social media, drinking, cliques, etc. but when we listen, we can understand better how to help in areas that might need our presence.
Because if we just barge in to try to fix things, more likely than not, they’re going to shut down emotionally and it’ll be that much harder to get them to open up again.
7. Remember What They Say
There’s nothing more disheartening for a teenager then to finally open up to an adult and that adult either wasn’t paying attention or didn’t truly listen.
I probably struggle with this one the most, because…mom brain. And brain fog is a real thing, especially for those of us who suffer from anemia.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t work at it. Just giving them our full attention will go a long way towards not only remembering what they tell us but gaining a bit of leniency if we truly don’t recall a conversation.
8. Have an “Open Conversation” Policy
Because of the abuse in my past and the years I kept it from my parents, I purposed in my heart to do what I could to keep my girls from repeating my mistake if ever they were faced with a situation they didn’t know how to talk about.
So my husband and I decided that no topic would be off limits and we would make sure our girls understood that.
In the name of transparency, I knew I was going to have a hard time with this, especially when it came to sex, etc. So from the time they were toddlers, I worked hard at overcoming that insecurity until I was completely comfortable talking about anything.
And when it came time to talk with our girls about such topics, we had a great conversation that opened up an opportunity for them to ask questions and receive answers. What resulted was this amazing time of bonding that strengthened the communication between us.
Since then, our girls have come to us countless times to clarify a phrase they heard or to ask another question or two. And I love that they feel comfortable doing so. Because I want them learning the “facts of life” from their parents, not their peers or any other random source.
9. Don’t be Judgmental
There are going to be times when our teens need to talk and the conversation is going to be heavy. This is not the time to parent. Not yet. This is the time to open up our hearts as wide as they’ll go and listen.
Noticing a pattern? If we want our kids to listen to us, we need to start listening to them. It’s a whole lot of give and take and leading by example. An iron fist will only push them away. Especially on this point.
Our teens are going to mess up. They’re going to struggle. But whether or not they come to us about those times will depend solely on us and how they feel we’ll take it.
If they think we will only fly off the handle, they’ll never open up. If they attempt to talk and we aren’t purposeful in our response, they’ll consider that a failed attempt and never do it again.
A little bit of understanding goes a million miles when it comes to our children, especially in their teen years.
10. Talk With Them, not at Them
There are definitely times when we need to “parent” our teens, but by the time they’re in Jr. High and especially high school, most instruction should already be established. At that point, their teen years are more of a directing phase than anything else.
In our home, if you live under our roof, our rules and guidelines are to be respected. But every one of those have been discussed with our kids over the years so that they understand why we have them. That way, when it’s time for them to make their own decisions, they understand the process.
And so many of our rules have been collaborations with our kids as they grew. There were listed rules when they were younger with clear-cut consequences if they were broken. But there was also mercy and many times, we would allow them to choose between punishments or suggest their own.
As they grew older, those rules have matured as have the consequences. But there is very little need for discipline in our home now, and that’s how it should be.
You might be reading this and think I have no idea what it’s like to rear a rebellious teenager. You’re right, I don’t. My teens have their moments but they are not rebellious.
However, I was a rebellious teen once. My parents considered a Girl’s Home for me my Senior year of high school. But they had no idea that my rebelliousness was hiding something much deeper: years of abuse.
Most every rebellious teen is a young person who is either struggling with a hurt or just feels closed off to their parents. If you think there might be abuse in their life, please seek help for them.
But if you think there’s a disconnect, it starts with us, mom and dad. We need to make the first real effort here and we need to keep making that effort until we have earned their trust.
11. Be Real
If there is one point that I can emphasize the most, it’s this one. Teens despise hypocrisy and when they see it in their parents, what respect they might have had dissolves fast.
The age-old phrase “Do as I say, not as I do” has done more to put a wedge between parents and their kids than probably any other mentality.
We as parents, ought to be leading by example. We will never be perfect citizens nor should we pretend to have it all together. But we ought to always be striving to be better.
Every one of us have a “public” persona and a “private” one. But they shouldn’t be so different that you’re unrecognizable from one to the other. I try to be the same “me” in public as I am at home with my kids.
This is something I have had to work on a lot, but it has been so rewarding–and freeing–to not have to put on a show all the time. Be real and your teens will respect you for it.
12. Be Humble Enough to Apologize
If we struggle with something, be real about it. There’s nothing wrong with our kids seeing that we’re human. If we make a mistake, we ought to own up to it.
I can’t tell you how many times I lost my cool, was unfair or didn’t take the right things into consideration and in the process pushed my children away, emotionally.
I’m not saying you should apologize for being a parent, I’m saying that when you don’t handle things right, it’s ok to admit it to them. It’s ok to ask for their forgiveness. If this isn’t an everyday occurrence, 9.9 times out of 10 they will readily forgive and that bond is reestablished.
Being humble and asking forgiveness isn’t a show of weakness, it takes courage to do this, even in front of your children. It’s showing them an incredible example to follow, one they can respect and emulate in their own lives.
13. Don’t Underscore Their Frustrations
When my youngest would get home from school, she would often talk about how hard her math work was that day. And almost every time my oldest would comment, “You think that’s hard, you should try my math work!”
I finally told her that even though it was no longer hard for her to do, it was at one time and, it is hard for her sister now.
But how many times do we one up someone’s bad day, making them feel that their frustrations are not warranted? It’s a bad habit to get into but one that will push away our teens if we’re not careful.
14. Talk When They Want to Talk
We all have busy lives, especially with teens in the house. It can feel like a never ending game of taxi, right? But if one of our teens want to talk, there’s usually a reason.
That reason could be they just need some extra encouragement or they might need to make sure a decision they made was the right one. Or they just need to connect. Or they could have something on their heart that needs discussing.
Whatever the reason, they aren’t going to come out and say it. They might not say anything at all. It could be they just sit on your bed while you’re putting clothes away. Or they ask a nonchalant question that they hope might lead towards what they really want to ask.
Sometimes these subtle signs are hard to spot, but if we’re keen enough (and not distracted), we are usually rewarded with a great conversation and some bonding time with our teen.
If we push them off to talk later, that time more than likely will never happen. If you really can’t talk about something at that moment, saying something like, “I really want to talk about this, but I can’t give it my full attention at this moment. Can we sit down together after dinner to discuss it?” will keep that connection open.
15. Learn to Interpret Their Actions
I think this is good practice in general, for everyone. But in the case of our teenagers, they are so all over the place sometimes, helping them to decipher what’s going on is huge.
My oldest takes a lot on her plate because she thrives on being needed and helpful. But it does overwhelm her from time to time. That’s usually when she gets impatient with every one. If my usual correction shuts her down instead of adjusting the problem, I know she needs me to step in.
Usually I’ll call her to my room and we’ll sit on my bed and I’ll ask her what’s wrong. Sometimes she doesn’t open up right away but we’ve been doing this enough times that she’ll mostly come right out with it.
After she’s had time to vent, she’s usually a totally different person, refreshed and ready to tackle the world again. But if I fail to pick up on that cue, her and I tend to go head to head until I finally catch on.
Learning as parents, to recognize what’s really going on prevents us from adding undue stress to an already frustrating situation. Then exercising patience and understanding can bring things around and leave the family in a much better place.
I know there is so much more that can be said, but it I were to narrow everything down to two important takeaways, it would be to work on talking with your teen some everyday and to always be real.
I’ve created some questions that might help you to get them talking. You can download it and read it or print it off and keep with you for easy reference.
About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.