Communicating with teens can be one of the hardest parts of parenting. Teens are going through a lot of changes, and these can cause them to behave in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. No matter how much your teen pulls away from you, it is important for parents to be reminded that they need your attention and your love.

Opening a line of communication with your teen while withholding judgment is one of the best ways to show love and care. Simple conversation doesn’t always work, however, these conversations have to follow a certain approach if you have an un-talkative teenager at hand. Teenagers will defend their dignity and are especially unforgiving of adults who condescend to them or try to manipulate them in some way.

Above all, teens have to feel understood. When parents only talk to them in order to shut down or invalidate their thoughts and feelings, they only pull away further. Try to always open conversations by showing understanding even if you aren’t on board with them or don’t understand. Here are some conversation starters which show understanding and compassion:

“What do you think about that?”
When watching TV or other media, point out issues that your son or daughter might be facing. Then ask them what they think about it. This can lead to further talking points, like:

“Do you know anyone dealing with this situation?”
Asking your teenager if they have a personal connection with a situation creates a space for your teen to discuss their personal life. This opens a conversation where you can get a glimpse into what goes on in your teen’s life when you’re not around.

“If you could do anything right now, what would it be?”
A lot of teens feel aimless or as if they’re living life without a direction. By asking this question, it can address some of the silent tension they’re going through. Let them get as detailed as they want in their response here, even if you don’t like what they have to say.

”Why does it make you feel this way?”
The only way to understand anybody, teens included, is to ask questions. This particular question gives your teen an opportunity to frankly discuss his/her thoughts and feelings. Just remember to remain open-minded no matter what they say so you don’t ruin future opportunities to hear what’s going on.

“What would you change about yourself?”
Teens can be terribly vain and self-deprecating. Most of the time, they internalize these self-judgments and it is important to let them voice these things openly. Letting them talk openly is a form of processing unhealthy feelings and can lead to a better self-image.

“What can you do about it?”
Teens seek to be in control, especially of their own lives. This typically results in defiance and overall resistance to parental assistance. Asking them to express their own ideas about what should or could be done teaches problem solving and displays a certain level of trust that builds their self-esteem.

Create a Conversation Jar

Try to set aside at least one hour a week to talk with your teenager. You can divide this into smaller, more manageable chunks of time if necessary. Because it might be hard to talk with them, you might consider creating a jar containing conversation topics. These topics can include things like:

  • What scares you about life?
  • What do you want to do before you die?
  • What do you imagine your future being like?

While it probably won’t be easy to get teens on board with this idea, you can definitely get them into the habit of it either way. After going through this exercise a few times, teens will accept it and might even come to look forward to it, appreciating the time and effort you are showing towards building a better, more open relationship with them.

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