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How to Talk to Your Teenager About Anything

Reading Time: 9 minutes

How do you talk to teens? Parents have been trying to figure this out for a long time. Talking to teens isn’t always easy. But it’s a huge part of building a great relationship with your child.

Moreover, an ongoing, meaningful connection between kids and parents is one of the most powerful factors in supporting teen mental and physical health. That includes open communication in which teens feel safe talking with parents about what they’re thinking and feeling.

Key Takeaways

  • Research shows that positive communication with teens supports their mental health.
  • Talking to your teenager about limits may be necessary as they develop independence.
  • Parents need to stay calm when talking to teens and avoid judgment or anger.
  • Parent coaches, therapists, or counselors can help families improve communication skills.

Research on the Impact of Open Communication with Teenagers

Specifically, researchers have found that communication between parents and teens has a number of evidence-based effects. For one, it decreases risk-taking behaviors during the teen years. Ongoing parent-child communication also reduces adolescent substance abuse and decreases teen sexual activity. Overall, a healthy relationship with their parents, which includes lots of positive communication, is proven to support teen mental health.

Clearly, communication with parents has a significant impact in keeping teens happy and healthy. But having deeper conversations with your teen isn’t always easy. In fact, having any sort of conversation can be difficult with a moody teen. Therefore, here are some suggestions for clearing the path to open communication with your adolescent.

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How to Get Your Teenager to Talk to You: Do’s and Don’ts

Sometimes the toughest part of communicating is figuring out how to get your teen talking. Whether you want to address something significant or just have a friendly chat, breaking the ice with a teen can be tough. Here are some do’s and don’ts for how to get your teenage daughter to talk to you and how to get your teenage son to open up.

What Not to Do

Don’t ask “So is everything fine?” When you ask your teen if everything is fine, you’re giving them the message that you want everything to be fine. They doesn’t want to disappoint you, so they’re more likely to just nod in response and let you believe that everything’s fine, even if it isn’t.

Don’t ask questions that are too general, like “How was your day?” often produce one or two words that don’t give you any information about your teen’s life or what your child is really feeling. This phrase is a conversation killer with adolescents.

What to Do

Do ask specific yet open-ended questions like “How was your get-together with so-and-so?” or “How did that test go?”

Do give your kids the sense that you’re open to anything they have to say, whether positive or not so positive. And try to avoid offering unsolicited advice. Thus, they’re more likely to share what’s going on in their lives.

Do choose moments when your teen seems relaxed and open, rather than trying to push them to open up when they seem stressed or irritable and don’t want to talk.

5 Secrets to Communicating with Your Teenager

  1. Talk about trivial things sometimes. Not every conversation has to be about the important stuff. Watch a movie or TV show together and discuss it. Read the same book and compare your views. Talk about the latest celebrity gossip or fashion. Anything that engages your teen—without being overly negative or critical—is fair game. The idea is to stay in practice so that deeper conversations don’t feel like as much of a stretch.
  2. Build in regular family time. Spending time together specifically to talk and catch up can nip potential conflicts in the bud. Set a time that works well for everyone and don’t rush through the conversation. Try asking questions like, What worked well for us this week? Does anyone have particular requests or needs this week? It’s a lot easier to process issues when you’re not at a crisis point.
  3. Play a sharing game at the dinner table. Go around the table and play the game known as “Rose, Thorn, and Bud.” Each person shares their rose (the best moment of the day), their thorn (the most challenging moment of the day) and their bud (something they’re excited or hopeful about). This can be a great way to start a longer conversation or just keep communication open.
  4. Find places for communication in your daily routine. Driving in the car, walking, shopping, or saying goodnight to your teen are all opportunities for low-pressure conversations. Sometimes it’s easier for a teen to open up when they’re not in face-to-face contact (as when driving or walking), or when it’s dark in the room before bed. This is a particularly effective approach if you’re wondering how to talk to your teenage son. That’s because boys are still socialized to “be a man” and thus a teen boy or young man often feels less comfortable talking about feelings or hard topics.
  5. Write to your teen. If talking is a bit tough for you and/or your child, try using texts or e-mails to communicate occasionally. The written word is sometimes easier to absorb for teens—whether it’s an explanation of why you’ve set a limit, or simply an expression of love and appreciation. And teenagers might appreciate the opportunity to talk about their life in writing, rather than trying to find the right words in the heat of the moment.
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How to Talk to Teenagers About Discipline and Limits

The teenage years can be rocky as teens struggle to build autonomy and independence—while also dealing with raging hormones and tumultuous emotions. It’s important to let them be their own person and have their own life. However, establishing limits for an adolescent is often necessary. It’s important to set boundaries around issues like technology use, going out on school nights, chores, using the car, or staying over at a friend’s house.

But parents also need to respect teens enough to explain the reasons behind their decisions. “Because I said so” or “You’ll understand when you’re a parent” are not helpful statements when communicating limits to a teen. On the contrary, these classic parental fallbacks are guaranteed to increase a teenager’s frustration and make them not want to talk to you.

Instead, try these four steps for communicating limits to your child.

  1. Start with love, and listen closely. Most important: Always begin the conversation with an attitude of loving acceptance. Before you talk, let your teen say their piece, and don’t interrupt. Listen patiently and show with your facial expression and with a nod or two that you care about what they have to say.
  2. Acknowledge how they feel and what they want. It’s critical for adolescents to feel understood and validated. Once they’ve presented their case, make it clear that you believe their request or complaint is important and worth addressing. Make sure they know that you’re not angry with them because of their request. Your teenager’s request can be quite valid for them, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you. You might even bounce ideas off each other for how to find a satisfying compromise.
  3. Explain why you don’t think it’s the right thing. Tell your teen, “I understand why you want to do this, and here’s why I don’t think it’s a good idea.” (Using the word “and” rather than “but” is a good way to honor their feelings.) Then list the reasons. But don’t go into too much detail: The prefrontal cortex—the reasonable, responsible part of the brain—is still developing in adolescents, so trying to appeal to their common sense doesn’t usually work.
  4. Clarify how it’s going to work. Lay out clear expectations, and explain the consequences if they choose to ignore those expectations. Remind them that they have the choice to respect or reject the rules, but rejection will lead to appropriate consequences. You might even consider drafting a written agreement so you’re both on the same page. And negotiation is acceptable if you feel there’s room for compromise. In addition, avoid power struggles at all costs.

How to Talk So a Teenager Will Listen

Talking to teenagers can be stressful. But if you’re able to regulate your own emotions during a charged discussion, chances are your teen will do better, too. Consequently, the conversation will go better for both of you. Try these methods for keeping your cool so your teen won’t tune you out.

Breathe and Relax

Stay calm! Take long, slow, deep breaths, which activates your parasympathetic (“relaxation and recuperation”) nervous system and slows your heart rate. As you breathe, notice where you’re holding tension in your body and consciously release it.

Don’t Take It Personally

Young people are developing their own lives, their own identity, and their own opinion. And part of that is disagreeing with and pushing back against what they perceive as parental control. Remember, this is not about how good or bad of a parent you are.

Remind Yourself That You Are a Role Model

The way you conduct yourself in a conversation shows your child how productive—or how messy—communication can be. Remind yourself how important it is for you to serve as a positive example during the teenage years. And let this be an incentive to avoid yelling, getting overly emotional, or blaming your teen.

Take a Timeout If You Need It

If you sense that you’re not getting anywhere, or either you or your teen is too worked up to continue talking, take a timeout. Tell your teen you’re going to pause the conversation and revisit it later.

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How to Get a Teenager to Talk About Their Feelings

Teens may not find it easy to talk about their emotions and fears. Therefore, when talking with your teen, it’s helpful to pay attention to their nonverbal communication. Often, the words that come out of our mouths aren’t expressing what really underlie them. Pay close attention not only to the content of a conversation, but also to your teen’s body language and tone.

What desire, fear, sadness, or insecurity can you intuit beneath what might seem like an angry or resistant attitude? If you think you sense something that isn’t being said, speak to it gently. If they’re sad or angry, let them know that’s okay and those feelings should be honored. Make sure they know that you won’t judge them, no matter what they tell you. Practicing active listening is the most effective way get a teen talking.

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How to Talk to Teenagers About Depression and Suicide

Staggering statistics recently released from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reveal that 17 percent of high school students have contemplated suicide. And 8 percent made an attempt to take their own lives in the past 12 months.

Obviously, the reality is that teens are under extreme duress. Therefore, parents need to be aware of the symptoms and talk to their teens. Find a safe environment to talk face-to-face, in person. Listening is key; lecturing will shut down a teen’s ability to respond.

Make a real effort to understand what they are feeling and why. Then assure them that you will find solutions together and make sure they get the help they need. You can start with your family doctor, a high school counselor, or another mental health professional.

10 Signs of Teen Depression

  1. Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in favored activities
  2. Exhaustion, constant fatigue, and a generalized lack of energy
  3. Sense of despair, sadness, and hopelessness (sometimes escalating into suicidal thoughts)
  4. Lack of motivation for school work or other projects
  5. Unexplained aches and pains, headaches, stomach problems
  6. Hard time concentrating (particularly for teens who used to be focused)
  7. Feeling worthless, irritable, frustrated, or having an extreme case of low self-esteem
  8. Disturbed sleep patterns (taking naps during the day, insomnia at night)
  9. Changes in appetite and weight (including not eating on a regular basis or binge eating)
  10. Abusing alcohol or drugs to cope with the pain as a form of self-medication
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How Much Should I Share with My Teenager?

Communication isn’t just about learning how to talk to teenagers. It’s about kids learning more about their parents’ lives. That doesn’t mean telling them how much better you behaved back when you were a teenager. It does mean sharing your own teenage experiences in appropriate ways, to illustrate what you might have changed or not if you could go back to that time.

Talk about what matters to you and why, to give your teen a sense of why you make the choices you do. Let your teen know that you’ve gone through what they’re going through now, and you found a way to grow from the experience. Your experience can provide a valuable and different perspective. However, you don’t need to share information that will needlessly upset your child.

In conclusion, no matter what circumstance, part of building a healthy relationship with your child is learning how to get your teenager to talk to you. Keep at it, even when it seems uncomfortable or intimidating. The more often you communicate, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. The ultimate goal is building a stronger parent-child relationship.

When You Need Support Getting Your Teenager to Talk to You

Many parents need a little help getting their teen talking and learning how to talk so their teen will listen. Parent coaches, counselors, or family therapists can help.

At Newport Academy, strengthening family connection and communication is the foundation of our treatment model. We see the family as the solution to teen mental health struggles. Contact us today to learn more about industry-leading treatment for adolescents ages 12–18.


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