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How to talk to your teenager

Most parents of teenagers have moments when they want to pull their hair out in frustration as they try (unsuccessfully) to talk to their teens. Rolling their eyes, ignoring you, shouting, or withdrawing in angry silence are all ways your teen might be testing your boundaries when you try to communicate with him/her. You may often feel discouraged when trying to talk to your teen. Fortunately, there are some skills you can learn to better talk to your teen and build a healthier relationship with him/her.  

Ask Yourself Three Questions

As you struggle to talk with your teen, ask these three important questions:

  1. What is really going on?
  2. What kind of problem is this?
  3. Whose problem is this?

What Is Really Going On?

As you talk with your teen, pay attention to his/her body language, tone of voice, eye contact, breathing, posture, etc. These are clues to what your teen is really feeling, regardless of what he/she is saying. Paying attention to these clues can help you decide what you need to do to help your teen. Trying to figure out what is really going on is more effective than wondering why this is happening.  

What Kind of Problem Is This?

Look for ways to identify the problem. Is it a safety issue? A problem at school or with friends? Is your teen depressed or abusing drugs or alcohol? Is he/she depressed or anxious? Identifying the problem will enable you to make decisions on how to proceed and if you can help. For example, you may decide to seek counseling for a depressed teen or medical help for a teen displaying worrisome physical symptoms.

Whose Problem Is This?

As a parent, it’s easy to want to fix your teen’s problems yourself. Or perhaps you prefer to avoid them, hoping that time will ease the situation. Learning when you are responsible and when your teen needs to solve his/her own problems is tricky. However, as you ask yourself the two questions above, you’ll get clarity on whether you should intervene and how you should help.

As you talk with your teen, keeping in mind these three questions, remember that lecturing, advice-giving, guilt trips, and yelling are ineffective. Instead, focus on being a good listener and accepting your teen’s feelings as long as they are conveyed respectfully. Also, you will likely encounter your teen’s reluctance to confide in you as you try to talk to him/her about important matters. Accepting that this is normal with teens can be helpful as you work through communication barriers. But using the skills listed above will help improve the quality of your conversations with your teen, even if it doesn’t necessarily increase the quantity of those conversations.

How to Use at Home

  • Next time you have a conversation with your teen about a problem, pay attention to the three questions “What is really going on?”, “What kind of problem is this?” and “Whose problem is this?” Afterward, write down the answers to those questions and see how they help you to know what to do about the problem.