10 Tips for Better Communication with your Teen
Just about every day that I mentor, communicating with parents comes up as one of the trickiest ongoing challenges that my clients face. And on the flipside, I hear the same from their parents! Getting the knack of communicating with your teen down is like aiming at a moving target that’s jacked up on energy drinks and TikTok dance moves.
I’ve put together 10 of my favourite ways to help improve communication with your teen. That doesn’t mean you need to nail all of them! See what resonates and makes a difference for you. You might even be doing some of them already…
1. Listen, don’t lecture
We all know how it feels to be on the end of a lecturing monologue. We simply tend to switch off after a while. It takes the authority out of what you are saying and builds a wall between you and your teen. Instead of lecturing, try being the one who listens more than speaks. Leave space and silence for your teen to fill. Granted, these may be very long silences at first if they aren’t talkers to begin with…!
2. Stay curious
If you can adopt an attitude of curiosity, it can be much easier to manage your emotions and reactions than if you are sitting in a space of judgement. Be curious: why did she say that? What made her do that? Is there something bigger going on that we haven’t dealt with here? Big moods and emotions are often linked to more than just being grumpy for the fun of it. Cut your teen some slack and get curious about what’s happening in their world (just like you’d love if you’re having a bad day)
3. Avoid shaming at all costs
Shaming is not ok. Your teen looks to you to understand how the world sees them. Avoid ‘you are…’ statements at all costs, as these can often do irreparable damage to self worth. Also avoid comparing your child to another person; this never feels good to hear. For a whole lot more on shaming and to see if you’ve been unknowingly doing it, check out my post here.
4. Adopt a mentor mindset
The reasons mentors are great at getting stuff out of teens is because we are supportive, objective, we listen, and we never judge. It’s also by virtue of being removed emotionally, and that’s what makes it so much easier to mentor than to parent a teen! However, if you can begin to adopt even a little of the mentor mindset, this can help to put a distance between your emotions and their actions/reactions. Create that safety by remembering that you are their greatest mentor, and the one who can have the most influence on them. If your child knows you are there for them, no matter what, this helps immensely to open up honest communication.
5. Try side by side
This is a great trick I learnt at teacher’s college, and it works especially well with boys. Whenever I had to have a tough conversation (you know, who kicked the ball at the clock and why is there smashed glass everywhere now) we would always take a walk side by side, throw a ball around, or sit on a bench side by side… avoiding eye contact. It makes things less intense and can help the conversation to flow. Car trips are another great example of this.
6. Take time out and revisit later
Sometimes it’s more effective to step away, gather yourself, and revisit something after the moment has passed. Reactive communication is rarely helpful (which if you are anything like me you have surely experienced before!). It’s not ‘letting them get away with it’; it’s ensuring hurtful things or things we may regret are not said in haste, and it allows you to think about consequences for their actions or words without the pressure of what’s going on clouding your judgement. A simple – “we will discuss this later” is enough. Just make sure you follow through.
7. Validate them
Validation is really important, even if you don’t agree with your child (nor do you have to!) Simple comments such as “that must feel very frustrating / challenging for you right now” or “I can understand how you feel that way” may help to diffuse a situation where they just need to be heard. Avoid trying to change how they feel and certainly avoid telling them they don’t / can’t feel a certain way – your job is to hold space for them to listen and work through that. They may even change their perspective once you’ve allowed them to be heard, but if you argue back, that becomes a whole lot less likely.
8. Ask questions
Endless questions can be frustrating if we don’t want to talk, so choose a moment when your child is telling you about something to demonstrate you are actively listening and interested. There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to someone who is half with you or has their head in their phone. Engage by asking open ended questions (ie the ones where you can’t answer them with a simple one-word response) and take an interest in their friends, day and ideas.
9. No comparison
As mentioned above, comparison is not a helpful tool. It deserves its own mention here because it happens sooooo often to teens! The major issue is that they are already comparing themselves to EVERYONE at this time of their lives, and it already makes them feel pretty dreadful! Please don’t add to it. Comparison is why we have body esteem issues, stress about academic / sporting / cultural ability and performance, jealousy and drama between friends… I could go on and on. Your teen needs your support to see the incredible, unique human they are without feeling like they need to measure up to someone else. Avoid!
10. Casual and often
Make conversations casual and often. It’s also the best way when you want to work through big topics such as mental health concerns, pornography, worries about who their friends are… If you can, make time to chat often so your engagements aren’t always about when something has gone wrong / they’re in trouble.
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