• How to Talk With Your Teen

    By. Carol Maxym, PhD.

    Communication is at the core of successful relationships, but too often both parents and teens have a difficult time making the other understand what they’re feeling. Adolescence is a complicated time in a teen’s life; he or she may be undergoing intense physical, mental, and emotional changes and may also be struggling with finding new ways of expressing their feelings and frustrations.


    Learning how to talk with your teen is an important step in helping him or her understand the changes he or she may be experiencing. To help you reestablish and improve communication, the checklist below can help both parents and teens better express how they feel when they’re having a conversation.


    Parents and teens will complete the checklist below separately and then share their responses. Simply check off as many of the following words that describe a typical conversation or how you feel when you are talking with your parent or teen.


    comfortable frustrating not heard angry
    understood used up annoying exciting
    impatient sincere stimulating edited
    loud gentle clear confusing
    frequent seldom happy meaningless
    sensible pointless meaningful despairing
    endless open warm boring
    hopeful optimistic embarrassing uplifting
    non-existent respectful muddled tense
    controlling considerate uncomfortable predictable
    depressing spiritual hurried draining
    speaking different languages enjoyable anxious repetitive



    Next, answer the following questions in a phrase or two:


    • How often do you feel you have (or had) the same conversation?
    • Do you feel as though you can predict exactly where each conversation is going?
    • What do you usually talk about with your parent or teen?
    • What was the last meaningful conversation you had with your parent or teen? How did it end?
    • When you are having a conversation with your parent or teen, what you you appreciate most about it?
    • When you are having a conversation with your parent or teen, what do you dislike most about it?
    • Are there things that you would like to discuss with your parent or teen, but feel you can’t? If your answer is yes, why?




    Check off the following statements that apply to your relationship and/or communication with your teen or parent:

    I know he/she really understands and cares about me and my thoughts and feelings.

    I know he/she really understands and cares about me and my thoughts and feelings, but …

    He/she doesn’t understand how I feel.

    He/she wants to understand, but just can’t.

    He/she just rambles on and on and on.

    It never makes any sense.

    I’ve heard it all a million times before.

    Isn’t he/she ever going to get it?

    I’m tired of taking all the blame/responsibility.

    Why is he/she making this so difficult?

    I never know how we get to the place we end up in.

    I just want it to be over.

    She/he is always lecturing me.

    I’ve heard all this before.

    I don’t believe a word.

    I don’t even bother to listen.

    I appreciate his/her point of view, but …

    That’s just the way adults/teens talk.

    I want to believe, but …

    I don’t feel I’m being heard.


    Now, describe your experience of a good conversation and a bad conversation.


    How do you feel about your parent’s or teen’s side of the conversation?


    Begin a Conversation 

    Exchange your questionnaires and use each other’s responses to begin a conversation about your communication. This exercise will work best if each person agrees to listen closely to what is being said with an open mind and without interrupting. You may also want to establish some ground rules for your conversation such as speaking about yourself before speaking about your teen or parent including no criticizing or blaming.


    Reflections for Better Communications

    • It’s natural to have preconceived ideas about the world, ourselves, and those we love and our interactions with them. If you are able to place imaginary “brackets” around those preconceptions and set them aside before you have a conversation with your teen or your parent, you may be surprised at what you discover.
    • Each person shares equal responsibility or blame when communication is difficult or isn’t working.
    • Remember the old adage: “Try walking around in the other person’s shoes for a day.” Try looking at the world from your parent’s or teen’s perspective.
    • It’s easier to say that the other person doesn’t or can’t understand than to work to understand the other person.
    • Do you ever feel that your teen or parent is trying to confuse or manipulate you? If so, what does that mean?
    • Who is more frustrated when someone doesn’t “get it” or understand what is being said — the speaker or the listener?

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