A Parent’s Guide on How to Talk to Teens

“How do I get my teen to talk to me?!” – This is a common statement I hear from parents. Parents often desire that their child talks to them and share with them what is happening at school or with their friends. However, they simply don’t know how to talk to teens.

Developmentally, teens are at a stage when they naturally become more closed off. They are working on their own identity. They are learning to take new perspectives on life and are trying new things — all the reason more why parents hope for better communication with their teens.

There are a few common parenting pitfalls that tend to immediately shut down communication. Below are four of the top few to avoid.

Avoid These 4 Conversation Killers When Communicating With Your Teen

1. Avoid Sharing Your Own Personal Stories

Your teen comes home upset after a failed test at school. You immediately remember the chemistry test you failed in tenth grade and share with her the story. “I know exactly how you are feeling,” you tell her.

Although your intention is to express to your child that you’ve been there (and survived, Chemistry isn’t as important as they say it is after all), the message your child hears may be quite different. In fact, you do not know exactly how he/she is feeling.

Instead of sharing your personal story, ask them how they are feeling or put a word to how they are feeling: “You seem so upset/disappointed.” Share your story at a later point in time.

2. Don’t Judge Your Teenager

We make judgments all the time. It’s human nature to label things. Unfortunately, we tend to label things in black and white terms. Good or bad. Judging your teen is a sure-fire way to stop a conversation in its tracks.

For example, let’s go back to the teen who failed their chemistry test. A judgmental statement would be, “You are really being dramatic about this.”

Another common area in which parents tend to judge are friendships and interests like music, television, and entertainment. As ridiculous as the newest trend or band may be, try not to judge it – instead, learn why your teen is interested.

3. Don’t Be Dismissive and Don’t Say Your Teen is Overreacting

Your teen has recently broken up with their boyfriend/girlfriend and is heartbroken. They feel like they’ve lost the love of their life. You respond to them, “This is going to happen a lot, so you really need to learn how to cope with this,” or, “I can’t believe you are acting this way. You need to calm down.”

Teens feel things often with more intensity (you can thank hormones for this) than adults. Dismissing or telling them they are overreacting (even if you feel it’s true), will often shut down a conversation.

Think about it… would you want to share your thoughts or feelings with a person who tells us to feel differently or say we are overreacting? No!

4. Listen to Your Teen. Don’t Try to Immediately Problem-Solve

As a therapist, I hear about this one a lot from teens. “I just want to talk to my mom or dad, and not have to solve anything.” As parents, we are problem solvers. We have to be.

When our children were toddlers, we had to problem-solve constantly (how to prevent them from climbing on the furniture). In elementary school, we problem solved school and friend issues. Often our child wanted our help and expertise during their early years. As teens, this often shifts. Very frequently, teens just want parents to be an ear, someone to listen.

Try to listen rather than problem solve. If you feel like your teen is wanting advice, ask them directly if they want advice. Otherwise, listen. The truth is, the more we listen, truly listen, the more they are likely to share.

Click here for more content by Heidi Limbrunner, Psy. D., ABPP!

Heidi Limbrunner, Psy. D., ABPP
In her practice, Dr. Limbrunner provides therapy and assessments for children, adolescents and adults with a variety of concerns. Her areas of specialty include eating disorders, body image, Dialectical Behavior (DBT), self-harm, anxiety, depression, and learning issues. She enjoys working with individuals and families to help them reach their goals and focuses on building upon strengths. In working with children, she heavily involves family members in the therapy process.

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