Sometimes it can be difficult to communicate with teenagers. They may seem sullen, angry, or uninterested in having a conversation. It is important to not get frustrated when these things happen. Teenagers naturally start to become more independent, and that can manifest itself by pulling away from parents and expressing less affection towards them. Teens are also starting to experience some difficult and complicated experiences, such as romantic relationships, exposure to drugs or alcohol, and feelings of depression or anxiety. It is important to figure out some key ways to talk about these things with the teens in your life. The following are some recommendations from the CDC and the Child Mind Institute:
- When discussing sensitive topics, always be direct and honest with them.Listen without judgement if they are discussing something that might be hard for them to talk about.Discuss what they can do if they are in a situation that they feel uncomfortable in, such as being offered drugs or alcohol, or if they do not have a safe way to get home.
- Help them to make good, healthy choices but still encourage them to make their own decisions and honor those decisions if they are reasonable.
- Take their thoughts and feelings into account and validate their feelings.Being a teenager can mean that they feel things very strongly and can be overwhelmed with those feelings.Try to acknowledge that what they are feeling is valid and respect their opinions.They will feel that they are in a safe environment if they feel supported.
- Be clear about your expectations but allow them to have input on how to meet those expectations.Don’t be a dictator, teenagers will respond better if there is a dialogue about what is expected of them.If there is a conflict between parents and teens, it is important for the parent to control their own emotions.
- Give your teen some praise.They need a self-esteem boost as much as younger kids do.Don’t be afraid to compliment them and to celebrate their accomplishments.
- Trust them with responsibility.It will help to build trust in you in return.Help to encourage them to come up with solutions to their own problems and don’t just solve conflicts for them.
- While we want them to share openly with us, it is part of their natural development to become more private.Respect their need for privacy and don’t press them for information if they are not ready to share.Pay attention to what is going with them, such as changes in their behavior, mood, appetite, or energy level.That may help clue parents in if something is wrong.
- Encourage your teen to get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy balanced meals.Communication can be fostered by doing things together, such as going on walks or hikes together.Eat together as a family every night if possible.This is will help the whole family to communicate better together.
These are just some suggestions on how to encourage open communication between parents and teenagers. The most important thing to remember is that the teenage years are just a phase, if you continue to support and encourage your teenager they will eventually open up again.
By Natalie Royer, DO, FAAP
UTMB Department of Pediatrics
UTMB ABC Clinic Child Safety and Protection Team, Department of Pediatrics, (409) 747-9298
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child Development, Positive Parenting Tips, " Teenagers (15-17 years of age);"
https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/adolescence2.html, Page last reviewed: March 6, 2020.
Child Mind Institute, Tips for Communicating With Your Teen, "Keeping the parent-child relationship strong during a tricky age," by Rachel Ehmke, https://childmind.org/article/tips-communicating-with-teen/, viewed March 2020.
Healthy Children.org, American Academy of Pediatrics, "How to Communicate With and Listen to your Teen," Edited by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, FSAHM and Sara B. Kinsman, MD, PhD
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/How-to-Communicate-with-a-Teenager.aspx, last updated 11/21/2015.